Blinded by the Dark
Once upon a time, in the hallowed halls of Movie University...
Welcome, students. Those of you who signed up for "Horror 10l" with Professor Hakari have come to the right room, but if you're looking for "Introduction to Slapstick" with Professor Hahari, that's down the hall on the right. Fine, I see everyone seems to be in the right class, so let's get down to business. Over the course of this semester, we'll be studying many aspects of the horror genre, ranging from the use of weaponry in 20th century slashers to the old "It's only a cat" routine.
Today, though, our attention focuses on the haunted house sub-genre, in particular director Jaume Balaguero's oft-delayed thriller Darkness. Upon analyzing this film, I think you'll see how distant from its original form and what an editing fiasco it turned out to be -- as well as how cliched the story is.
An assessment of the plot shows that Darkness indeed covers all its bases in qualifying as a haunted house picture. There's the usual Average Family, with the potentially dangerous dad, the worried mother, the older sibling who emerges as the heroine of the story, and the younger sibling to whom various eerie events occur. The family relocates to the predictable Gloomy Old House (GOH for short), but in a change of pace, the GOH is in Spain, creating the opportunity for some good locales and cinematography. It's too bad Balaguero stayed mainly indoors here; I personally would like to see more of the beautiful countryside, but I digress.
To continue, weirdness strikes not long after the Average Family has moved in, from lights blinking on and off to invisible forces pulling the Creepy Kid's pencils under the bed. Eventually, it comes down to Hero Sister trying to figure out why Psycho Dad seems to be going nuts, what's giving Creepy Kid bruises, and what the evil that seems to be dwelling inside her house really is.
Now on first glance, Darkness seems to suffer from a case of Amityville Horror Syndrome: ancient house, remote location, spectres and spirits directly messing around with the family members. But look closer, and you'll see what prevented Balaguero from delivering a product not only scarier than Amityville but also a better one. Note the numerous instances of flat-out bad editing, most likely used to cut out the gorier, bloodier elements of the film and deliver a PG-13 rating. In particular, notice the climactic scene of Darkness, where a bit of the red stuff would have intensified the tone of the piece and where it's also impossible to tell what's happening.
Obviously, the studio "powers that be" have contradicted themselves here, for in their quest to send out a product that's accessible to younger, more impressionable viewers, the Ginzu-knife editing created a muddled, plothole-ridden, and confusing picture that will turn off more viewers than draw them in. Balaguero's atmosphere certainly lives up to the title of Darkness, but his style renders the events just as difficult to view.
Let's turn now to the people acting out this piece. Anna Paquin, in a role Balaguero once considered for Natalie Portman, does her best to bring a little emotion to the role of Hero Sister, rather than allowing herself to become just another soon-to-be-forgotten scream queen. With a commanding presence that makes up for his limited screen time, veteran actor Giancarlo Giannini also delivers a decent performance as Psycho Dad's father. However, the other performers aren't so lucky. Iain Glen does a so-so job as Psycho Dad, Lena Olin is wasted as Worried Mom, Stephan Enquist's Creepy Kid is almost a direct riff on the CK from The Ring, and Fele Martinez' role as Hero Sister's best friend is so flimsily introduced into the story, you barely notice him hanging around at all.
Still, despite all these flaws, Darkness remains a somewhat intriguing film. The pace never really lags, Anna Paquin's performance shines fairly brightly, and although it's almost impossible to tell what's going on, the movie's atmosphere casts a chilling spell over certain scenes. In conclusion, I would give Darkness an "A" for effort and a "C-" for overall quality.
That's all for today, students. Your assignment for our next meeting is to write a brief essay on what went wrong with The Grudge. Class dismissed.
MY RATING: ** (out of ****)
(Released by Dimension Films and rated "PG-13" for disturbing images, intense terror sequences, thematic elements and language.)
Review also posted at www.ajhakari.com.