December 3, 2001
Starring: Anna Paquin, Lena Olin, Iain Glen, Giancarlo Giannini, Fele Martínez, Stephan Enquist, Fermín Reixach, Francesc Pagés, Craig Stevenson, Paula Fernández, Gemma Lozano, Xavier Allepuz, Joseph Roberts, Marc Ferrando, Josh Gaeta, ,
Despite being snapped up by Dimension Films in America, this Spanish horror has yet to see the light of day, possibly due to its muddled screenplay and studio executives with cold feet. But letting it languish in limbo like this means it may never find an audience outside of Spain and Darkness is not bad enough to warrant the dreaded straight-to-video label. It dances dangerously close on some occasions, and is pure style over substance, but isn’t the majority of western horror like that anyway?
Beginning with a young boy recounting his escape from a house where six other children were apparently brutally murdered, Darkness sets a tone of creepiness from the get-go that suggests we might not see a happy ending. Many years later the same house is bought by a new family and it’s not long before they are effected in their own subtle ways. The house, it seems, is hiding something evil that likes to pray on children. Needless to say, the new family includes a young boy and a teenage girl.
When the father is struck by a recurring illness, the underlying tension already present from the move starts to rise. Little Paul becomes afraid of the dark – something his mother dismisses as being just another natural reaction to moving into a new house – but when bruises start mysteriously appearing on his face, his sister Regina (Paquin) becomes suspicious and starts to dig deeper into the history of the house.
Most of the horror conventions are present here – Paquin wanders about in her pajamas, answering the phone in the middle of the night, taking a bath as the lights flicker mischievously – but the screenplay by director Balaguero is inconsistent and doesn’t stick to the rules. Or, more accurately, he never sets any, so it seems anything goes when it comes to the house trying to ensnare the family. Without a clear exposition scene to explain the ‘power at work’, the believablility soon gets lost amidst shallow scare tactics. For example, when Paquin learns that supernatural elements are after her little brother, she accepts it far too simply. Dana Scully would be appalled. But Paquin (an oscar winner at the tender age of eleven) isn’t really to blame here, as the problem is clearly in the writing. She’s easily the best thing in the film, which isn’t hard due to Iain Glen’s tired Daddy-goes-mad-and-tries-to-kill-family routine and Lena Olin’s phoned-in performance as the mother.
On the plus side, the movie is stylishly shot and if you go in with low expectations there are a couple of good jumps to be had. The editing and sound, especially during the opening titles, impress and the film was nominated for Best Sound at the Goya Awards (the Spanish Oscars) this year.
Somewhere inside a great horror film is trying to get out, but as it is, Darkness is merely entertaining creepiness. Things spiral out of control towards the end (again, seemingly with no set rules about what the evil can and can’t do) and the finale leaves a bad taste in your mouth. But it’s worth tracking down.
Included here are cast and crew interviews where everybody says how great they think the movie will turn out (Paquin seems have done it just to go to Spain for a bit, and who could blame her), and some behind the scenes footage which adds up to little more than random on-set clips with no narration or structure. There’s also the trailer for the film in English and Italian.
A two-disc special edition is also available (if you can track it down) but be aware of the language options. I bought the DVD from an Italian website so although the film was in English, I had to put up with Italian subtitles on screen during the film.