Darkness (2002) Movie Review

The new horror movie “Darkness”, not to be confused with “Darkness Falls” (although both films share similar gimmicks involving darkness), stars Anna Paquin (“X-Men”) as a teen whose family moves into an old house in the Spanish countryside — or “the sticks” as Paquin’s Regina calls it. The house, as it turns out, has no known previous owner, and it becomes a mystery how Regina’s family managed to buy it in the first place, since there’s no record of its construction anywhere.

As the screenplay by director Jaume Balaguero and co-writer Fernando de Felipe slowly progresses toward the inevitable bloody conclusion (complete with bleeding walls), we learn that ghostly spirits of children in school uniforms are haunting Regina’s little brother Paul. Worst, Regina’s father Mark (Iain Glen) is starting to show signs of psychosis, and her mother Mary (Lena Olin) seesaws from unconcern mother to bitch and back again. What’s a girl and her Spanish boyfriend (Fele Martinez) to do?

Considered by many as the man most responsible for returning vigor to the Spanish horror scene, writer/director Jaume Balaguero has done better work. In fact, the look and feel, and a lot of the techniques used in “Darkness”, had already been used extensively in Balaguero’s far superior film, “The Nameless”. That other film had supernatural vibes, but as it turns out man was more capable of horror than any supernatural element. With “Darkness”, there are indeed supernatural evil afoot in Regina’s new/old house.

“Darkness” opens strong, with Balaguero taking his time to set up the situation. The house is not so old and creaky that one wonders why the family would move in in the first place. It’s actually quite comfortable and quaint. Ghost elements are introduced by way of Paul, who experiences visitations by what appears to be dead children. The results of these visits are frightening bruises and gashes on Paul’s neck.

The film’s star is Anna Paquin, whose Regina isn’t the spunky teen we’re used to in horror movies. Although Regina is the driving force behind uncovering the secrets of the house and saving her family from ruin, she actually does very little. Her boyfriend Carlos actually does all the actual leg work. As the mother, Lena Olin is on automatic pilot and is so bad and unconvincing that for a moment I forgot she’s a veteran of the acting game. Who fed poor Lena sleeping pills during film production, I wonder.

Of course Olin’s sudden lack of acting talent is helped by a lackluster screenplay devoid of any energy or urgency. Besides offering one clunky dialogue after another, Balaguero shows a lack of understanding when it comes to non-Spanish actors (this is, I believe, the first time he’s worked with foreign actors). Besides offering up some truly bad moments, the screenplay has a bad tendency to make its actors whisper their way through important scenes. This is made even more frustrating because there is a lot of exposition being offered, and I could barely hear any of it.

Needless to say, I became irritated after the 10th time I was forced to turn up the volume to hear the dialogue, only to have to turn the volume down quickly when Balaguero throws in one of his “shock flashes”. Shock flashes are when images appear onscreen in quick bursts, usually for split seconds and involving violence or ghostly visions. As he did with “The Nameless”, Balaguero also tries to split our eardrums with “scary” sounds that usually accompanies those shock flashes. Oy. My poor ears.

After the 100th shock flash, I started to wonder why Balaguero didn’t just throw out the “slow moving ghost story” he intended in the first place and just go with a “shocker” already. Why bother with a laborious ghost story bent on atmosphere and mood if you’re just going to assault the audience with shocking flashes in the first place? I assume the whole purpose behind the flashes is to keep the audience on its toes. It’s a good thing too, because I started to doze off about halfway in.

As our lead, Anna Paquin seems grossly out of place in the moody environments. Her wide-eyed girl is unable to sell the scares and she just looks lost and ill-prepared for being in a horror movie. Veteran Giancarlo Giannini (“Joshua”) shows up as Regina’s grandfather, and adds to the whole whispering-for-exposition thing. The only actor who strikes a cord is Iain Glen (“Tombraider”), who is really good as the father on the verge of psychopathic behavior.

In the end, “Darkness” feels like a cheat. The film lacks any scares whatsoever, mostly because it uses so many familiar horror elements that any horror veteran will roll their eyes at the lack of originality present. There is actually only one effective scene, and that’s when a CGI creature appears out of the darkness crawling along the ceiling toward Regina. The rest of the film is a terrible bore. Worst, it’s a badly written bore with characters that whispers too much but are given to sudden spurts of shouting out ridiculous lines.

Jaume Balaguero (director) / Jaume Balaguero, Fernando de Felipe (screenplay)
CAST: Anna Paquin …. Regina
Lena Olin …. Mary
Iain Glen …. Mark
Giancarlo Giannini …. Albert Rua
Fele Martínez …. Carlos
Stephan Enquist …. Paul

Buy Darkness on DVD