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.
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.