Directed by Mike Hurst
Produced by Mark A. Altman, Mark Gottwald, and Chuck Speed
Written by Mike Hurst and Mark A. Altman
Director of Photograpy Raymond Stella
Music by Joe Kraemer
Cast: Shawn Pyfrom, Reed Diamond, Greg Grunberg, Lucy Lawless
2006/84 mins/Color/Dolby Surround 2.0
1.78:1 anamorphic/English/USA/NTSC Region 1
Review from the Anchor Bay Entertainment DVD
Over the past decade, movies with twist-endings have come back into vogue thanks to films like FIGHT CLUB and THE SIXTH SENSE. But, with their most recent films, directors such as David Fincher and M. Night Shyamalan have turned away from the shocking finale. Thus, it only stands to reason that other filmmakers would step in to fill this void. Enter director Michael Hurst and writer/producer Mark A. Altman. They made a surprisingly interesting entry into the genre early in 2006 with ROOM 6. Their now back with a companion piece to that film, THE DARKROOM.
THE DARKROOM opens in a mental hospital. Dr. Allen (Ellie Cornell) is a pharmaceutical company drug who is researching a new drug which will assist amnesiacs in recovering their memories. The clinicians at the facility have chosen a patient known as "Alex" (Reed Diamond). As a teenager, Alex was found wandering, covered in blood, with no memory of who he was or where he lived. He's spent the last 15 years in the hospital. Despite the fact that there's a danger of violent side-effects, Dr. Allen administers the drug to Alex, but it seemingly has no effect. Following this, there's an incident at the hospital and Alex uses this as an opportunity to escape.
Once on the outside, Alex meets a young man named Stanley (Shawn Pyfrom) and help Stanley avoid some bullies. Feeling a debt of gratitude, Stanley decides to help the now homeless Alex. Stanley hides Alex in the shed behind his house, where he lives with his mother, Cheryl (Lucy Lawless) and step-father, Bob (Greg Grunberg). Cheryl is a mousy alcoholic, while Bob is an amateur photographer who keeps his darkroom under lock-and-key. Stanley asks Alex to help him find out what Bob is up to. Alex agrees, but he finds it difficult to function, as he begins to experience disturbing visions involving a woman getting her throat cut and a hideous monster.
During the special features on THE DARKROOM DVD, creators Michael Hurst and Mark A. Altman admit that the film is an amalgam of two script ideas, and boy, does it feel that way. The movie is constantly shifting action and locations. There's a guy in a mental hospital and he escapes and then he's talking to a teenager and then he's living behind the teenager's house and then they decide to follow the step-dad. The shift from the just Alex to the Alex and Stanley storyline isn't done very smoothly and creates a jarring effect which I'm sure wasn't intentional. The subplot involving the step-dad comes in relatively late in the game and suddenly becomes the dominant focus of the film. There also an odd juxtaposition between the somewhat touching story of a teenaged boy who's willing to help a homeless man coupled with several violent throat-slashings.
However, THE DARKROOM isn't quite the mess which it sounds like. Some viewers may find the lack of a true focus irritating, but there was just enough going on to keep me interested. The preceding may be muddled, but the only true flaw in the film is that Hurst and Altman tip their hat too early. THE DARKROOM has a very clever twist ending, but there's a scene around the 56-minute mark which gives the secret away. It doesn't necessarily diminish the ingenuity of the idea, but it certainly robs the movie of its power.
THE DARKROOM may feature a twist ending, but to me the real shock is how Hurst and Altman continue to lure recognizable stars into their low-budget films. Granted Shawn Pyfrom, and Greg Grunberg may not be household names, but they are actors with which I'm familiar. The real surprise here is Lucy Lawless who is almost unrecognizable with her bleached hair and lack of makeup.
THE DARKROOM is one of those movies which is what it is -- a slightly above-average direct-to-DVD horror film. Some viewers may find the film a bit lite on the horror touches, but the characters are interesting and if you aren't paying close attention, the twist ending may get you. And let's face it, Altman has already come a long way since HOUSE OF THE DEAD.
THE DARKROOM is developed on DVD courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image looks fairly good, as it's sharp and fairly clear. The picture is somewhat flat looking and there is a minute amount of grain on the image. The colors look fine, most notably the reds and greens. The nighttime shots are never overly dark. The DVD's Dolby Surround 2.0 audio track is passable (and somewhat surprising since most of Anchor Bay's new releases carry a 5.1 track). The dialogue is sharp and clear, and the stereo effects are good. However, the surround effects are quite weak and barely noticeable.
The DVD carries a few extras. Hurst and Altman provide a likeable AUDIO COMMENTARY in which they describe most every facet of the production, from the story to the casting to the locations to the shooting. One thing which I like about this duo is how frank they are about low-budget filmmaking. "THE DARKROOM Exposed" is a 20-minute behind-the-scenes featurette which offers comments from cast and crew, as well as on-set photos. The piece examines the characters, the story, and the special effects. The DVD features 8 DELETED, EXTENDED, AND ALTERNATE SCENES which run about 15 minutes. This includes an alternate ending which has an interesting, but also confusing idea.
This Film Features:
Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2007. ©