Effective in atmosphere if somewhat lacking in other departments, Brad Anderson's supernatural thriller posits what seems to be a post-Rapture world where most of the globe's population disappears in an instant. Those left struggle to avoid the darkness which seems to be sentient, breathes like an asthmatic canine, and manifests itself as sinister silhouettes that are out to get anyone who steps out of the safety of the light.
An obvious low-budget for Anderson here has resulted in an economically made film that posits more questions than answers and understands full well how the unknown is far more frightening than the explained. Certain touches, from the sun rising and setting quicker each day to the various theories about this event espoused by the characters, are smart additions which add to the feelings of dread throughout.
Yet there's an obvious lack of consistency here, the creeping darkness rarely follows any fixed rules aside from the needs of the screenplay. The action is mostly confined to a dive bar in Detroit where a TV reporter (Hayden Christensen), theater projectionist (John Leguizamo), a nurse (Thandie Newton) and a teen (Jacob Latimore) have hold up with the help of a rickety electric generator.
None of the cast is of much use, Christensen does his usual petulant child routine while the more reliable Newton and Leguizamo are reduced to hysterics in her case, and tedious fatalism in his which leaves him lying flat on his back on a pool table for much of the film. The characters themselves are barely developed, most just getting quick flashbacks to where they were during the event which renders the dialogue predictably on the nose at points.
While the idea of the darkness being a danger has been done before and better (eg. "Pitch Black," Doctor Who's "The Silence in the Library" episode), the moments here of panic and action are engaging even through some of the increasingly stupid moves made by the characters towards the end of the film. The central mystery at the heart of this thriller works as a high concept, though this particular set of characters trying to survive it aren't half as compelling.
Anderson's strong skill with exploiting locales makes good use of Detroit's rather decrepit cityscape, and his direction is enjoyably twisted at points (the initial scare in the opening sequence is quite creepy). The sound design is disquieting which is a major contributor to any atmospheric film, though the cinematography is let down by said budget restrictions. It's a stylish thriller that falls apart under any serious scrutiny, the lack of explanation equally frustrating and compelling at the same time.