Review: ‘Darkness’

An English-language chiller that oozes technical class but is ultimately just an efficient exercise in style, "Darkness" ---- bowing Stateside after hitting European territories in 2002 and 2003 -- is a series of powerful sequences that fail to cohere. Jaume Balaguero's follow-up to his well-received debut, "The Nameless," seeks to hide its deja vu script behind a sizable ($11 million) budget, backed by Filmax's Fantastic Factory genre division. Though pic boasts decent perfs, potent atmospherics and eye-catching visuals, both psychology and plot are bargain-basement. Strictly for horror fans, pic hit U.S. theaters Christmas Day as holiday counterprogramming.

An English-language chiller that oozes technical class but is ultimately just an efficient exercise in style, “Darkness” —- bowing Stateside after hitting European territories in 2002 and 2003 — is a series of powerful sequences that fail to cohere. Jaume Balaguero’s follow-up to his well-received debut, “The Nameless,” seeks to hide its deja vu script behind a sizable ($11 million) budget, backed by Filmax’s Fantastic Factory genre division. Though pic boasts decent perfs, potent atmospherics and eye-catching visuals, both psychology and plot are bargain-basement. Strictly for horror fans, pic hit U.S. theaters Christmas Day as holiday counterprogramming.

Mark (Iain Glen), wife Maria (Lena Olin) and kids Regina (Anna Paquin) and Paul (Stephan Enquist) take up residence in an apparently idyllic rural house with a past. The house-warming party is well-attended by people who later fail to show up when the going gets creepy. Soon it’s raining constantly, the lights are flickering on and off, and Mark is showing the first signs of mental disturbance — after a respite of 10 years, he again starts suffering from Huntington’s disease.

There are isolated shocks during the film’s first half, but the buildup is too slow for any sustained tension. Regina suspects something is wrong but is able to convince only her Spanish b.f., Carlos (Fele Martinez, speaking poor English); her parents refuse to believe her. Soon Paul, her brother, is doing drawings of kids who have been hanged and Regina is finding marks on his neck. She and Carlos decide to get to the bottom of things by visiting Villalobos (Fermi Rexach), the broken-down old architect of the house.

The script gets inside the minds of the protags, but the problem is that, apart from Regina, they don’t have much mind to get into. Glen is unable to tease much out of the character of Mark, apart from decency at the beginning and sub-“Shining” madness later on, though making a line like “There are larvae everywhere — I hear them whisper” ring true would be beyond most thesps. Olin’s Maria is too hard-nosed to be likable, with the result that their relationship is flat and unconvincing.

The kids are stronger, particularly Paquin, whose freshness as Regina combines well with her fortitude as she takes over her mother’s role and tries to save her folks.

The idea that it’s the darkness itself that’s to be feared, rather than what it conceals, is neat, but the script is unable to sustain it.

“The Nameless” was genuinely disturbing because it was so deeply rooted in its characters. In contrast, “Darkness” is rooted in the noisy, high-budget, color-drenched school of hard shocks.

Visuals are consistently powerful, with the everyday — hands slicing potatoes, a silhouette of a man holding an umbrella — cannily converted into chilling images.

Several minor implausibilities also are generated by the movie being in English but set in Spain.

Darkness

Spain-U.S.

Production

A Filmax (in Spain)/Dimension Films (in U.S.) release of a Filmax (Spain)/Dimension Films (U.S.) production, in association with Via Digital. (International sales: Filmax Intl., Barcelona.) Produced by Julio Fernandez, Brian Yuzna. Executive producers, Carlos Fernandez, Guy J. Louthan. Co-executive producer, Antonia Nava. Directed by Jaume Balaguero. Screenplay, Balaguero, Fernando de Felipe.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Xavi Gimenez; editor, Luis de la Madrid; music, Carles Cases; production designer, Llorenc Miquel; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS stereo), Salva Mayolas, Dani Fontrodona. Reviewed at Filmax screening room, Barcelona, Sept. 10, 2002. Running time: 102 MIN.

With

Regina - Anna Paquin Maria - Lena Olin Mark - Iain Glen Albert Rua - Giancarlo Giannini Carlos - Fele Martinez Villalobos - Fermi Rexach Paul - Stephan Enquist
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