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Darkness
Reviewed by Gary Mitchel, © 2005

Format: Movie
By:   Jaume Balaguero (Director)
Genre:   Horror
Released:   DVD Release: April 26, 2005
Review Date:   April 25, 2005
Audience Rating:   UNRATED, Baby!
RevSF Rating:   4/10 (What Is This?)

It’s just an experiment. I’m a doctor.
— Dr. Rua

It’s a bad sign when a movie is completed for a year before the studio releases it into the theatre. It means that either some kind of legal tangle is holding the film up, or else the studio doesn’t think the movie will do very well. Darkness was completed in 2002 and wasn’t released until December 2004. That’s a very long time to sit on the shelf.

I think I know which reason is the culprit in this case.

The basic story is one that we’ve seen before. There’s a spooky old house where something bad happened many years ago. A new family — unaware of the house’s history — moves in, and the bad things start all over again. In good haunting movies, there’s a twist on this somewhere, or performances that rise above the “been there, done that” problem. In bad haunting movies, they just go through the motions. Darkness leans toward the latter.

Here’s the skinny: An American family — dad Mark (Ian “Resident Evil 2” Glen), mom Maria (Lena “Alias” Olin), daughter Regina (Anna “Rogue” Paquin) and son Paul (Stephan “first timer” Enquist) — has just moved to rural Spain to be closer to granddad, Dr. Albert Rua (Giancarlo “Hannibal” Giannini). Not long after they move into their house the creepy things start to happen. The light fixtures fuzz in and out, something in the dark starts threatening young Paul, and dad starts wigging out due to a relapse of a mental condition. (It’s almost always bad to be a dad in a horror movie.) Only Regina notices that something is up, but of course no one believes her except her boyfriend Carlos. Secrets come to light about Mark’s past and what happened in the house, leading to a huge climax set during a lunar eclipse that happens every 40 years.

The problem with all this is that there is very little new here. It also doesn’t help that the movie is one big disjointed mess. It’s like a story that was written in English, run through a translator, then translated back to English. The plot moves forward in fits and starts, with long scenes that build the tension (quite well, most of the time), then rush through a lot of exposition or character development in five minutes to set up the next long tense scene.

The character development takes one of two forms. Either characters (mainly Regina and Mom) have screaming matches at each other, or there are long, low conversations with characters that speak heavily accented English. At least four times I had to turn on the captioning to follow the dialogue.

On the horror side of the movie, most of the scares are of the jump-out variety. These are accompanied by the obligatory LOUD NOISE to make sure you jump, even if it is just from the volume assault. Other scares are the not-quite-subliminal bloody image flash, which either annoys you or makes you back up the DVD to see what the hell it was you just saw. The camera also tends to go on a caffeine bender, shaking and blurring to try and heighten the tension of the appearance of the spirits. The major plot twist near the end is interesting, but is not really a shocker.

The movie is not all bad. There are some very cool effects, most done on camera and not with CGI. I like how the ghosts are almost always in the background, in the dark, unnoticed by the cast. I also really like the last fifteen minutes of the movie, and the ending was a bold choice on the part of the filmmakers. It’s just a shame that everything leading up to them wasn’t better.

DVDetails

The DVD features are pretty unimpressive as well. There are no deleted scenes (as they were all re-inserted into the flick to make this the Unrated Edition). There are two movie previews, the film’s trailers, a four-minute “making of” feature, chapter selections, and a host of alternate language options. There are no commentaries, which is too bad. They might have made the film a little clearer.

In the “making of,” director Balaguero says he was really focusing on achieving a specific mood with the imagery and pacing of this flick. It would have been nice if he had focused on making a plot worthy of the imagery.

RevSF Spank-Muppet Gary Mitchel only took this assignment because he thought it would involve Freddy Mercury impersonators being fondled by space tentacles and writhing around on intergalactic-shagtastic carpeting.

What?

 
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