The Dark Horse (Cornelia Moore, 2008)
I have seen three movies of this stripe on the past month, the inspiration-drama-featuring-a-big-horse-competition kinda deal—The Dark Horse, The Long Shot, and Dark Horse (a different film than this one, made sixteen years previous and directed by David Hemmings; this is not a remake). This one isn’t the worst of the lot, but saying that is roughly akin to trying to find the least rotten apple in the bag. Not to put too fine a point on it, while this one sits right in the middle (The Long Shot was a smidge better, Dark Horse taps the bottom of the barrel while this can only see it through the muck), all three of them suck mightily, unless you are the kind of person who obsessively watches Hallmark Original Movies. Even my wife, who has been obsessed with Lifetime Original Movies as long as I’ve known her (she’s seen Mother, May I Sleep with Danger? almost as many times as I’ve seen Begotten), thought all three were ridiculous—and, as she pointed out while we were watching the climactic horse show in Dark Horse, which is remarkably similar to the one here, she spent a great deal of time at these a-long-long-way-from-Devon two-bit show rings when her aunt rode dressage. She’s been there way more recently than I (last time I was at one live was before my wife was born), so I bow to her more recent expertise.
Moore (who showed up in front of the camera next year in the very good ZMD: Zombies of Mass Destruction) serves up the usual dysfunctional-family-drama stew. It revolves around Dana (The Whole Truth‘s Carol Roscoe), a ballet teacher in San Francisco who has done her best to distance herself from her family, but is wheedled into returning when she discovers that her father Fiach (The Book of Stars‘ Sean G. Griffin)’s incipient Alzheimer’s has caused the farm’s finances to slide into default, and her opportunistic older brother Martin (Butterfly Dreaming‘s Mark Dias) has seized this opportunity and is trying to sell the farm. In order to save it, Dana will have to overcome the fear of horses she developed after falling off one and injuring herself during a dressage competition, and of course she has to do it with an equally damaged horse, and only her younger brother Finn (Fried Green Tomatoes‘ Haynes Brooke) to help her out.
Of course, there’s a great deal more stuffed in here, including a ridiculous romantic subplot you’re not gonna believe, but that’s the general gist of the main storyline. And you know what? I could give you the entire rest of the plot and not have to add a single spoiler alert, because if you’ve watched any two Hallmark Original Movies that feature dysfunctional families, you should be able to pinpoint, with all-too-depressing accuracy, exactly where this movie is going to go. Moore, who also wrote, doesn’t bother to even attempt a zig anywhere a standard inspirational piece like this would zag. Even a failed attempt of that stripe would have been better than a completely, utterly predictable movie that will have vanished from your head within fifteen minutes of you finishing watching it. That, however, is what we got. Avoid like the plague. *