It’s not hard to visit another world if you know where to look, and Marc Singer‘s Dark Days takes us into such a world that existed, not long ago, underneath Manhattan. The film revolves around an encampment of possibly thousands enjoying the benefits of the modern world with their own homes, pets, and electricity, all while covered in total darkness.
The film begins by examining what life is like below the surface of the earth. It asks what brought them down there and what it takes to survive in a world without light. Then it changes course and turns into a struggle film as outside factors complicate life in the tunnels.
The environments in the film are striking. Light from the camera only lasts for a couple of feet before it drops off into blackness, only to illuminate a sort of dystopian world covered with bottles and garbage strewn off into oblivion. The outside shots give this film the feel of a post apocalyptic future where the sun no longer exists, rather than below one of the richest cities in the world. Choosing to film in black and white helps extend the sense of unease by taking us just a bit farther away from reality.
All the while the world presented to the audience is also a very human one. It shows people who have been pushed to the brink, but who are carving out a new life for themselves on the frontier of the junkyard of capitalism. Building shacks out of plywood, with electricity, and a place to keep their stuff gives these people amenities that many sleeping on the streets above them can’t afford at all. While the occasional vendetta happens, the community still has a sense of almost old west order to it because of the respect developed by living with each other for years.
It should also be noted that the soundtrack by Bay Area native DJ Shadow is also extremely impressive. His underground hip hop fits the literal underground setting of the film, fitting the somewhat raw style of the film.
What’s almost as amazing as the subject of the film is the people behind the camera. The filmmaker Marc Singer moved to New York at 17 and after hearing about the tunnels he decided to make a film about them. He essentially lived in the tunnels these people. The budget was a shoestring with most of his film donated, no real budget, and a bunch of maxed out credit cards. Awesome.