Smart horror film ‘… In the Dark’ kicks off NJ Film Fest this weekend

Lynn Justinger stars as a skeptical grad student investigating the paranormal, in "... In the Dark."

Lynn Justinger stars as a skeptical grad student investigating the paranormal in “… In the Dark.”

The Spring 2016 edition of the New Jersey Film Festival begins on Saturday night with a jolt, in the form of the gripping psychological horror movie, “… In the Dark.” I’m usually not much of a fan of the horror genre, but this one drew me in and held my interest from beginning to end.

Directed by Jersey City native David Spaltro, the film follows a grad student, Veronica Carpenter (played by Lynn Justinger), as she investigates the case of a teenager, Bethany (Grace Folsom), who is showing signs of being possessed by … something. Veronica visits Bethany thinking she’s going to figure out a psychological reason for what’s happening to Bethany, then finds out she may be dealing with more than she bargained for. It’s a nice touch that she’s accompanied by an older academic, Dr. Lois Kearne (Fiona Horrigan), who was once as skeptical as Grace — and has, in fact, devoted much of her life to debunking hoaxes — but is now convinced that in rare cases, the supernatural does indeed come into play.

Along the way, Spaltro delves into the psyches of Veronica, and Bethany, and Dr. Kearne, and Bethany’s mother Joan (Catherine Cobb Ryan), a nurse. It turns out all of them have been affected by evil, or madness, in the course of their lives.

Ultimately, I think, Spaltro pulls off a nice balancing act, giving us some truly three-dimensional characters, as well as the scary, creepy stuff and surprise twists that the genre demands.

“… In the Dark” will be shown at 7 p.m. Jan. 30 at Voorhees Hall at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, and will be followed by a Q&A session with Spaltro. The screening will be preceded by a 20-minute short, “Pitter Patter Goes My Heart,” and a Q&A with that film’s director, Christoph Rainer.

For a complete rundown of offerings by the Spring New Jersey Film Festival, which runs through March 4, visit NJFilmFest.com.

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