Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A somewhat dysfunctional family moves into a new house, in a new country, that suffers from many problems, and might just be haunted. Oh, you have heard this before? Well, then you probably have no reason to see Darkness, because it’s essentially just another one of those. It’s a haunted house movie with about as much originality and scares as it has sunshine, which is to say that there’s not a whole lot of either.
The lead is a teenager named Regina (Anna Paquin), because a teenager is apparently the best perspective from which to shoot a horror movie. She’s constantly at odds with her mother (Lina Olin), who doesn’t ever seem to listen to her — for no reason — and her father (Lain Glen) is beginning to suffer from some sort of disease that causes him to go into spastic fits every now and then. This has happened before, and while it was supposed to be under control, now it isn’t. There’s also a younger brother, Paul (Stephan Enquist), because if a young child isn’t in danger at some instance, what’s the point of making a horror movie?
What’s so weird about this house, that just so happens to have been abandoned for decades, and also resides in the countryside of Spain? Well, it’s haunted, basically. The power cuts out at a certain time every night, the darkness “steals” the pencil crayons of our youngest character, and it’s just kind of creepy. Only “kind of,” though, because director Jaume Balagueró’s sense of atmosphere is desperately lacking. The dark is sometimes scary, but not in this film.
Having a scary movie can allow it to overcome almost any of its potential flaws. A bad script? It was scary, so who cares? Poor acting? It scared you, so that doesn’t matter. It makes absolutely no sense? You can see how this goes. If the film still scared you — and that was its goal — then all of these things become almost inconsequential. Darkness is so lackluster in the scares department that I almost fell asleep while it was playing. The only thing keeping me awake was my puzzlement while I attempted to figure out what was going on.
It’s not that Darkness was completely incoherent; for the most part, you’ll be able to follow along. The problem comes mostly from the film throwing random elements at you, many of which are seemingly disjointed from the rest. Some things pop up just to be discarded soon enough afterward. Others show no promise of going anywhere, and then fulfill that promise by being completely pointless. It gets sillier as the “truth” is revealed, too, and if I’m laughing at your horror movie, something has gone wrong.
When Darkness tries to tie everything together, it fails horribly. You’ll be unsurprised to learn exactly what happened — the film’s opening credits are set 40 years prior to the main story, meaning there’s a good chance that anyone involved in the “truth” has to be over that age — and even less involved in the film by that point because the haunted house movie clichés are so dull and worn-out. Some creative energy might have been nice, but Darkness is devoid of that.
There are points in the film that seem like they want to do something. Why does Regina constantly go swimming? Because that’s the only discernible thing about her character. It doesn’t actually matter, but the film can point at that singular idea and say “characterization!” That doesn’t make the characters deep, developed, or in any way interesting. There’s nothing to think about when it comes to them. Asking me for names of anyone other than Regina and Paul would involve me having to look online — and I only remember them because of how frequently they’re yelled in desperation.
Darkness‘ biggest sin is the way it completely wastes the talent involved. Anna Paquin looks completely lost whenever she’s on-screen, often times seeming as if she’s staring right past any actor she comes into contact with. It’s like she had no idea what was going on. Lena Olin and Giancarlo Giannini are both in this film — Giannini plays the uncle — and both look completely disappointed to have taken part in the project. Giannini is especially wasted.
Even the generally crisp cinematography gets ruined by random bursts of shaky-cam and quick-cutting, which is supposed to, in this case, raise tension, but only serves to irritate. It simply doesn’t work to the desired effect. It’s possible that this happened because it simply wasn’t executed well, but I think it was more of a case of overuse and being in complete contrast to how the rest of Darkness looked.
There’s a reason that Darkness sat on studio shelves for more than two years after it was shot. That reason is that, regardless of how long it went through post-production, no matter how much cleverness went into trying to save it, it was a completely doomed project. No trickery would be able to fix what was completely broken from the get-go. This is a barely coherent, terribly docile, waste of time and talent, that you have absolutely no reason to see. This is a truly awful movie, and I hope it doesn’t waste anyone else’s time.