Scrupulous Detail and Evocative Musical Numbers Illuminate Family Tensions in I Used to Be Darker


I Used to be Darker offers a window onto a family in crisis, whose turmoil is dramatized by director Matthew Porterfield (Putty Hill) and screenwriter Amy Belk with the same sort of detachment felt by the clan’s visiting Irish niece, Taryn (Deragh Campbell). Having run away from home and, later, Ocean City, Maryland, the secretly pregnant Taryn arrives in Baltimore to find uncle Bill (Ned Oldham) and aunt Kim (Kim Taylor) in the middle of a tense separation, which is wreaking havoc on their aspiring actress daughter, Abby (Hannah Gross). Porterfield’s camera is inquisitive even as it operates at a remove, with shots of characters framed in doorways to visualize their isolation, and long takes of musical numbers by Bill (who’s abandoned his artistic career ambitions) and Kim (who performs in a band with her new lover) that convey everyone’s inner despair. Scripted like a series of chronological snapshots seen from a slight distance, the film exhibits a contemplative quiet and attentiveness to detail that enhances its issues of regret, bitterness, and confusion, many of which are rooted in thorny parent-child relations. Meanwhile, Porterfield uses music as a vehicle for evocative emotional expression, be it a heavy metal band’s chaotic din or Kim’s final ballad of wistful yearning.