Orion and the Dark

Orion and the Dark Is a Simple Yarn About Embracing Your Fears

Dept. of Bumps in the Night


Are you afraid of the dark? No, I’m not talking about the Nickelodeon series from the ’90s. I’m talking about actual fear of darkness, or nyctophobia, which is what twelve-year-old Orion suffers from in DreamWorks’ latest movie, Orion and the Dark. While Orion, a precocious if paranoid kid, is afraid of everything from bees to bullies, it’s the dark that petrifies him most. And I get it. I remember how scary darkness was as a child.

This movie works because being afraid of the dark is such a universal fear that children and adults alike can relate to Orion’s anxieties. They say fear of the unknown makes things worse, and darkness is the perfect cover for other things to lurk unseen in the shadows.

Now, what Orion doesn’t know is that his nightly hysterics are hurting Dark’s feelings. So Dark decides to pay him a house call. Naturally, being visited by the embodied personification of his worst fear terrifies Orion out of his mind. So, Dark embarks on a PR campaign to salvage his damaged reputation in Orion’s trembling eyes.

Orion and the Dark

Dark forces Orion to watch a mini-movie about himself. When this fails to convince Orion that nighttime isn’t all bad, Dark has the bright idea of bringing the boy along to watch him work. With some psychological strongarming, Dark convinces Orion that by overcoming his fear of darkness, he will free himself from his other crippling fears.

It is here that Orion and the Dark shifts gears into a buddy movie as the both of them make the ultimate road trip, circumnavigating the planet in 24 hours, while catching up with Dark’s friends and colleagues: Sleep, Sweet Dreams, Quiet, Insomnia, and Unexplained Noises. With Dark as their leader, the Night Entities make the night what it is.

Orion and the Dark

Animation has always had a long love affair with anthropomorphizing concepts and natural forces like emotions, souls, and elements. It’s getting harder to find fresh things to personify, but I think DreamWorks delivers something approaching original with Dark and the Night Entities. 

There’s Sleep, whose murderous tactics for putting people to sleep would make Patrick Bateman proud. I’m not sure how a movie for kids got away with showing Sleep smothering and chloroforming people, but the dark humour was wickedly fun.

Quiet is a tiny mousy entity that sucks all sound like a vacuum (where can I get one of those?). Meanwhile, Unexplained Noises is a maestro at orchestrating horror sounds to spook people. He proves Orion’s fears that there is in fact some malignant force intentionally scaring people at night. 

Comparing the Night Entities to the emotions in Inside Out is unavoidable. But while there was real rapport between Joy’s gang, Dark and his crew feel like bored colleagues clocking in the night shift as they play keep-away from Light, a surfer dude version of Apollos, bringing his aggressively sunny personality to the world. 

Also, unlike Inside Out’s Riley, whose emotional arc had interesting turns, Orion’s journey is linear. He starts from absolute terror, moves to grudging acceptance, then gradually enjoys his situation before backtracking on his progress and hurting Dark’s feelings again. It’s only when Orion loses his friend that he realises how important Dark is to the world. 

Orion and the Dark

What saves Orion and the Dark from shuddering simplicity is the movie’s secondary storyline, when a grown-up Orion tells his daughter Hypatia the story of how he overcame his fear of the dark. I like how this double narrative opens up a tender intergenerational dialogue as father and daughter share a common fear and help one another feel better.  

Still, all of these sudden time jumps are quite jarring and partly responsible for the movie needing its deux ex machina resolution, which I didn’t really love. I also didn’t warm to the sudden (and very late) introduction of a third timeline and new kid to help Orion and Hypatia. 

There are also lots of logical gaps. Doesn’t Light have his own crew who make daytime special? (It would’ve been fun seeing them.) Why do the Night Entities behave as if people don’t take naps at all during the day? Also, why does everyone think that Dark will completely disappear if Light catches up? There’s plenty of places for Dark to live where the sun don’t shine. 

While Orion and the Dark may not be as memorable as Inside Out, it sends a meaningful message to kids that while everyone fears something, it is nevertheless something you should endeavor to embrace in order to live your life to its fullest. Still, the things that’ll really keep me awake at night are the questions that this movie left me with.

Orion and the Dark is now streaming on Netflix.

Dr Matthew Yap is a writer, editor, and educator. He graduated with a PhD in Literature from Monash University, where he also taught Film Studies. Matthew thinks watching good shows is one of life’s greatest pleasures. If watching TV is like eating, Matthew enjoys an international buffet of programmes across genres, from Sense8 to Alice in Borderland and Derry Girls.

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