Similarly observational in scope, Matthew Porterfield’s follow-up to 2010’s Putty Hill instead opts for a more traditional narrative structure as it chronicles an Irish runaway’s (Deragh Campbell) surprise stay with her recently separated aunt (Kim Taylor) and uncle (Ned Oldham). Harboring a life-altering existential woe of her own, the aforementioned Taryn grapples with what could become of an already uncertain future as household conditions worsen for her trio of hosts.
While a crumbling marriage is no metaphorical stranger to the narrative spectrum, Porterfield implements his personalized instance of it in an admirably naturalistic fashion, purposefully yanking on the reins so as to avoid subjectively notorious melodrama. From a noticeably affected daughter figure, Abby (Hannah Gross), to the well-intentioned but impassioned parents that struggle to uphold their integrity for her and Taryn’s sake, conflict exists but on an agreeably relatable plane that draws you in and rarely falters.
In fact, it’s the instances of musical catharsis that reveal more about these characters than their mostly restrained demeanor, what with original songs by Oldham and Taylor lending themselves wonderfully to their and the film’s competent moody trappings. Coupled with palpably sensitive direction and a more than ample storytelling ability, I Used to Be Darker is – simply put – a laudably restrained character-driven effort benchmarked by a solidly pragmatic view of these individuals’ respective plights. In choosing not to reinvent the wheel, Porterfield has successfully convinced us that he’s certainly an up-and-comer of considerable note, providing viewers with a well-woven film that consistently impresses as it subtly showcases its strengths.