Genesis wanders into a shop, where he becomes transfixed by a chessboard, and immediately sets about moving around each chess piece inside his head; going so far as to refer to them as “his friends”, at which point it is clear that he is not of complete stable mind. He is coaxed back into a police van by what appears to be his probationary officer, but is later released into the care of his brother, on the acceptance that he will take the drugs he has been prescribed to counteract his depression. But the house he is taken to, from the outset, is quite obviously a “drug warren”.
Genesis, in the early hours, goes round to a neighbour’s house and expresses his interest in not only joining the community chess club but also running it, with the view to enter youths there into a National Chess Competition. The neighbour, however, is not convinced that he will be up to the task, but feels encouraged when Genesis allows every child the opportunity to select their own pawn, one of which is his newly patched nephew Mana (James Rolleston) – having to train in secret so as to avoid his father’s wrath.
Apart from general, impressive shots of the landscape, there is also adrenalin-fuelled ones, comparative of those in Australian film Snowtown and Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting. A scene where this is apparent has Genesis believing his nose is bleeding at an uncontrollable rate, ceasing to stop. We, the voyeur, feel disturbed by this. Yet when he peers down at the pile of paper towels in the basin, no ounce of blood has been shed onto them. What are we to fathom from this, that it was an hallucination?
When Chess is made a part of Genesis’s life, it appears to level out his chemical imbalance, providing him with a focus but also a purpose in life; here you can draw parallels with John Healy, writer of The Green Arena, whose spiral into homelessness and alcoholism was rectified through his mastery in Chess, fine-tuned during his time in prison. Meanwhile the relationship that’s been allowed to build up between Genesis and Manu could reflect the one once held between the former and his own brother; and by him taking Manu under his wing, it somehow sets that path back on the straight and narrow again.
Unlike a game of chess, however, the moves of the narrative in The Dark Horse can’t quite be anticipated so frequently, making this New Zealand story, based on true events, shine that little bit brighter.