Directed by Jaume Balaguero
Produced by Brian Yuzna
Written by Jaume Balaguero & Fernando De Felipe
Director of Photograpy Xavi Gimenez
Music by Cales Cases
Cast: Anna Paquin, Lena Olin, Iain Glen, Giancarlo Giannini & Fele Martinez
2002/102 mins/Color/5.1 Dolby Digital
2.40:1 anamorphic/English/Spain/NTSC Region 1
Review from the Dimension Home Video DVD
It's very easy to accuse Hollywood of being shallow...because Hollywood is shallow. However, the bigwigs in Tinseltown will occasionally do something surprising, such as when they give a foreign director (who is most likely relatively unknown in the U.S.) a chance to make a big(ger) budget film. That was the case with Jaume Balaguero, who only had one feature directing credit under his belt, the disturbing LOS SIN NOMBRE (THE NAMELESS), which had yet to be released in the U.S. (although plenty had seen it on import DVD). With DARKNESS, Balaguero was given a nice budget and a recognizable cast to make a film. Now, if only someone had brought a script.
DARKNESS is set in a secluded house in the Spanish countryside, where something tragic happened 40 years ago. As the story opens, Mark (Iain Glen) and Maria (Lena Olin) and their two children Regina (Anna Paquin) and Paul (Stephan Enquist) move into the house. Mark was raised in this area and is reunited with his father, Albert (Giancarlo Giannini), who is delighted to have his family nearby. As the family begins to settle into the house, strange things start to happen. Paul hears voices and witnesses scary phenomena in his room. Mark, who has a history of outbursts, is increasingly on edge and begins to tear apart sections of the house. Regina confides in her boyfriend Carlos (Fele Martinez) that she is very worried about her family. Regina soon learns that she has a right to be scared as a curse from that awful event 40 years ago has returned to claim her family.
DARKNESS was shot in 2001 and was released in other parts of the world as early as 2002. But, for U.S. distribution, the film became yet another Miramax/Dimension property which simply sat on the shelf, only to be unceremoniously dumped into theaters (on Christmas Day no less). And while we as film fans cry foul that we've been "denied" the privilege to see these shelved films, when they finally see the light of day, there's usually an understanding as to why their releases were delayed, and DARKNESS is no exception, as the movie simply isn't very good.
The problem with DARKNESS is a simple one: it's yet another case of style over substance. The movie looks very good and director Balaguero is able to inject a true sense of forboding into some of the scenes. The interior of the house is all dark wood and shadows and it seems like the perfect place for something truly frightening to happen. Unfortunately, it's never made very clear exactly what that scary thing is going to be. There's nothing wrong with a film being subtle or lacking in great detail, but DARKNESS seems to leave out big chunks of the story. (And when this is overly-blatant in a EuroHorror film, then you know something is wrong.) We learn very little about the family and thus have trouble caring for them. (I never did figure out exactly how old Regina was supposed to be or what kind of school she attended. We do learn that she's on the swim team.) When the big secret surrounding the house is revealed, it makes little sense as it's never fully explained. We, the audience, are supposed to be caught up in Regina's race against time to stop something from happening, but as we are left out in the cold on exactly what that thing is, the effect is numbing.
As the story begins to crumble, as does Balaguero's style, as the same shot of spectral figures standing in a doorway is repeated many times and the film's rapid editing greatly resembles that of other movies like HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL. (Although, in Balaguero's defense, that style may not have seemed so dated in 2001.) There are two very creepy shots at the beginning of the third act, each of which seems to promise scarier things to come, but these frights never materialize and in retrospect those shots feel as if they belonged in another film. I'm glad that DARKNESS was finally released in the U.S., as I feel that every movie should had a chance to be judged by the public, but in this case, it certainly wasn't worth the wait.
DARKNESS comes to DVD courtesy of Dimension Home Video. The film is being released in two forms, one being the PG-13 theatrical cut and the other an unrated version. (More on that in a moment.) The film has been letterboxed at 2.40:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image looks very nice, as the picture is clear and relatively free from grain. As one could guess from the title, DARKNESS is a very dark film, but the action is always visible and the image is well-balanced. The colors are good and the image contains only trace amounts of artifacting. The DVD features a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which sounds great. The film is filled with room-shaking bass which adds to the shock scenes. There is also a nice use of surround during the scary moments. The dialogue is always sharp and audible.
For this review, I watched the unrated version of DARKNESS which runs 102 minutes, compared to the truncated 88 minute PG-13 cut which played in U.S. theaters. I haven't seen the shorter version, so I can't compare the two. But, I can tell you that the 102 minute version contains no nudity or gore, and, as noted above, the film doesn't make any sense, so I can't imagine what they put back in. There are a few F-bombs in the longer cut, but not 14 minutes worth. The DVD contains a featurette entitled "Darkness Illuminated: Behind the Scenes of DARKNESS" (4 minutes), which contains some behind-the-scenes footage and quotes from the cast and director (who speaks in Spanish). The DVD also contains the Theatrical Teaser and Trailer for DARKNESS.
This Film Features:
Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2005. ©