Review: “Darkness”

Several years old now, the Spanish-directed English horror flick tries playing itself as a leaner and meaner version of “The Others”. A great cast and some very effective atmosphere yields truly unnerving tension throughout the film’s length, but ultimately it’s all let down by an inane script that’s just as woeful as any Hollywood horror movie like “The Haunting” remake. The standard story follows a family who move into a house where a failed ritual sacrifice happened years before and the time is conveniently coming for it to be completed.

There’s the standard twists, all telegraphed from early on, yet so much of the film is a jumble of scenes that feel barely connected. Whilst these shots do add to the creepy feel of the film, from a narrative sense they have little to no point. Thus as an audience we spend much of your time trying to figure out what in the hell is going on, and when things do start to become clear, one quickly realises it isn’t worth the effort.

The mystery is so poorly handled that I doubt it makes much sense to the filmmakers let alone us. Not helping is the jumpy cinematography with its quick flash, sped up cuts to try and provoke reactions. The characters are threadbare which seems like a real shame to waste such talent as Olin, Paquin, Giannini, Glen and Martinez. Olin’s character changes moods on a dime – at one point she’s an almost smothering mother, at another a cold and callous cow. Glen acts like he’s starring in a remake of “The Shining”, and Giannini seems half asleep.

Late in the film a kidnapping subplot comes into play but it all seems so silly that it’s laughable. On the other hand, youngster Stephan Enquist as the son haunted by visions holds his own quite well. Throughout all this, Paquin seems to be the only sane one though it’s never explained why – still, the young NZ actress does a decent job in the film’s leading role. It’s only her and the hunky Martinez as Paquin’s friend who’s trying to help her investigate, that come out unscathed from this mess.

The visuals and atmosphere for what is essentially a cheaply shot film are effective. From the eclipse to the quite disturbing ending it all looks quite beautiful but when the big payoff eventually comes, the last ten minutes REALLY don’t make sense. What suddenly goes from creepy children lurking in the background suddenly changes to evil dopplegangers everywhere and any shadow suddenly becoming able to kill you. Somehow the film changed from being a European mystery to that cheap but creepy horror flick “They” in a matter of seconds.

For all its effective shocks, what’s missing here is a narrative. I don’t mean a strong centralised story, I mean ANY kind of story short of the two line excuse of a plot this feature uses. Director Jaume Balaguero is no Amenabar, rather “Darkness” comes off more like a low-rent “Vidocq” – a movie that’s quite stylishly shot yet utterly empty and hollow on the inside. Given a good script this could’ve been SO much more. What we’ve been handed though is a sheer mess that should’ve been left on the shelf.