Directed by Jaume Balagueró. Starring Anna Paquin, Lena Olin, Iain Glen, Giancarlo Giannini, Fele Martínez, Stephan Enquist, Fermín Reixach, Craig Stevenson. (2004, PG-13, 95 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Dec. 31, 2004
Eurotrash for the new millennium, Darkness is produced by Re-Animator’s Brian Yuzna for the Spanish outfit Fantastic Factory, which also made pal Stuart Gordon’s underrated H.P. Lovecraft pastiche Dagon three years ago. This time, however, there’s nary a shoggoth in sight, although there are naked geriatrics crawling on the ceiling and spooky kids straight out of the Overlook Hotel. Despite the very occasional shock, though, Darkness is a god-awful mess, the kind of monstrous misfire that makes your mind ache and your teeth grind. By all reports, it’s been sitting on Miramax’s shelf for the better part of two years, and the version the Weinstein brothers have so graciously chosen to release has been editorially hung, drawn, and quartered to the point that the story makes no sense whatsoever. To make matters worse, the recutting (necessary to bring the film down to a PG-13 level from its previous hard R) seems to have been performed by a blind marionette-operator on crack, but no, it’s actually by the highly competent Luis De La Madrid of the recent, excellent The Machinist. So what gives? Balagueró’s direction, for one thing, is just plain bad, sporting as it does a foul wad of cinematic tricks that were already outdated by the time Sam Raimi conjured his first soul sucker. Multiple scenes of alleged tension are shot using a Raimi-esque shaky-cam technique, but here it only results in the suspicion that the camera operator was undergoing some sort of seizure. The story, which involves (and this is a best guess, people) a haunted house, which may or may not be a portal to hell, and the family that moves into it, is straight out of the late, lamented Lucio Fulci’s bag of what-the-fuckery, but even that horror maestro leavened his strangely obtuse films with enough grue and lunatic humor to sate his core base of Fangoria fans. Darkness, denuded of the red stuff and, for much of its abbreviated running time, quite literally as dark as the inside of a grave at twilight, lacks even the most basic shocks inherent to the genre: It’s recycled bits from The Beyond, The Sixth Sense, Dario Argento’s Inferno, and whatever else director/screenwriter Balagueró could fit in. Paquin (X2’s Rogue) is onboard as the archetypal Voice of Reason character, but even she can’t seem to find her way around a plot as gaudily serpentine as a garter snake in a Cuisinart. Why Olin (Chocolat, The Unbearable Lightness of Being) should also find herself trapped in this monstrosity – in lockstep with the always fine Giannini – is an enigma that will stand beside that of the Sphinx and how all those big clowns got in that little bitty car for ages to come.