After all these years and all these films, it seems remarkable that someone could deliver a new angle on World War II, Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. But Cate Shortland's quietly devastating coming-of-age story, adapted from Rachel Seiffert's novel The Dark Room, is just that. As the Allies take Germany, a 15-year-old girl named Lore (Saskia Rosendahl) confronts a hard reality: Her high-ranking SS parents have been arrested, and she must escort her four younger siblings on a cross-country journey to an aunt in Hamburg
The formerly privileged Hitler Youth kids set off across a country reeling from defeat, a place of privation, danger, anger and confusion. Food and comfort have a price — if not a financial and sexual one, then a post-war reality-check. One shelter provides food only after displaced Germans examine photos of concentration-camp victims. Lore's struggles are further complicated when a strange young man joins the rag-tag family.
Shortland's feature is smartly filmed, and relates its story in a low-key but potent manner. (It's summertime, and the film matches the horrors of a war-torn country with the nature's inevitable beauty.) Rosendahl gives an assured performance: She deftly navigates Lore's tumultuous interior journey, which careens between pride, fear, horror, betrayal and even sexual awakening. Few escape the effects of the war, and while some outcomes were clearly worse than hers, Lore's re-ordered and re-assessed life is still a bitter pill.