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Dustin Putman

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Darkness (2004)
1 Star

Directed by Jaume Balaguero
Cast: Anna Paquin, Lena Olin, Iain Glen, Stephan Enquist, Giancarlo Giannini, Fele Martinez, Fermi Reixach
2004 – 95 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for disturbing images, thematic elements, and language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, December 25, 2004.

Dimension Films, the genre unit of Miramax, has become cinematically synonymous with poor advertising, chopped-up PG-13 cuts of R-rated products, and incessantly shuffled release dates. "Darkness" has fallen victim to all three of these things. Released abroad in 2002 with its R-rating intact, Dimension has seen fit to edit it down to a PG-13 and push back its stateside release for two whole years. Who is running Dimension Films and do they have a self-inflicting vendetta against themselves and their success? How else to describe the constant squandering of all projects that don't have "Scream" or "Spy Kids" in their title?

In any case, "Darkness," directed by Jaume Balaguero, was not worth the long wait, nor could any reinsertion of violence and/or gore save the outcome. This is a hopeless haunted house story, dreadfully written by Balaguero and Fernando de Felipe, that the viewer spends the entire running time trying to understand what is going on and then the drive home desperately attempting to make sense of it. Ultimately, the film doesn't have any sense with which to make, its central mystery seemingly developed with a pair of jagged cutting shears and its inconsistent characters never missing a chance to do the most stupid and mindboggling things imaginable during moments of danger. At least the title is accurate. "Darkness" is so dimly lit and its plot so threadbare that the viewing experience is not much more gratifying than sitting in a pitch-black room for 95 minutes.

40 years ago, seven children turned up missing in a countryside house in Spain, with only one of them—Mark (Iain Glen)—ever found. Now, in the present day, Mark has no memory of the traumatic experience outside of brief nightmarish flashes, but is plagued by occasional debilitating seizures. His condition grows worse soon after moving his family—wife Maria (Lena Olin), teenage daughter Regina (Anna Paquin), and young son Paul (Stephan Enquist)—from their U.S. home back to his birthplace in Spain. When Mark begins acting strangely, Maria becomes emotionally distant, and Paul starts drawing disturbing pictures while speaking of his newfound fear of the dark, Regina suspects that the main culprit is the house they are living in. With the help of her sort-of boyfriend, Carlos (Fele Martinez), and a mystery man (Fermi Reixach) with ties to the incidents four decades ago, it is up to Regina to find a way to save her family before the house swallows them whole. The deadline to the moment of truth? During a rare lunar eclipse that occurs—yes, you guessed it—once every forty years.

The zinger to "Darkness" is that there are no concrete answers to the questions it poses and no payoff to the mystery it involves the viewer in figuring out. For reasons unknown, Maria wavers between concerned mother and deadbeat parent at the drop of a dime; Mark's caring nature switches to something reminiscent of Jack Nicholson in 1980's "The Shining" in a matter of one scene; and Paul is the only one haunted by visions of ghostly children. If Regina is the only sane person in the family, and she is, then why? If the deadly secrets within the house have the power of possession, then there is no reason why Regina isn't affected like them, outside of the necessity that there must be a protagonist to investigate the goings-on and potentially stop the evil. Meanwhile, other plot points are undernourished to the point of distraction, including a picture of three men Mark insists on hanging on the wall, a demonic figure seen several times crawling across the ceiling, and the six apparently dead children who are lurking as specters throughout the house.

If "Darkness" is anything, it is one of the most confused films of the year. Late in the picture, Regina is kidnapped and tied up by a dastardly supporting character who will remain nameless. After he spins his diabolical plan to her in a strained, silly monologue, and after he knocks out Carlos (Fele Martinez), he abruptly releases Regina and urgently says, "You're the only one who can stop it. Now hurry up and go. There isn't much time!" Huh? Suffice it to say, if the evil is within the house, then why is there another scene where a character is assumably killed in an underground train station?

As the determined Regina, Anna Paquin (2003's "X2") tries with all her might to inject realism to a perplexing plot that gets more ridiculous with each passing minute. She is unaided by a vaguely written character whom the viewer never learns anything about except that she often goes to swim meets and cares for her little brother as if she were his mother. As the young Paul, newcomer Stephan Enquist is quite good, while Lena Olin (2003's "Hollywood Homicide"), as vacant mother Maria, walks through her role in a seeming state of catatonia.

Not scary for a second but seldom unsettling if only because of its dark, jittery camerawork by Xavi Gimenez (2004's "The Machinist")—those prone to motion sickness should take heed—"Darkness" is an ill-conceived hodgepodge of 1999's "The Sixth Sense," 2001's "The Others," 2002's "The Ring," and 2002's "They" without any idea of what made those pictures effective and intelligible. With the anticlimactic end credits comes a desire to either laugh aloud or find a tomato to throw at the screen. The desire of director Jaume Balagero was clearly to leave audiences on a disturbing note, and there is a semblance of a creepy idea in what the ending suggests, but "Darkness" turns out to be disturbing for all the wrong reasons. Since it took so long for Dimension Films to release this patronizing supernatural hooey in the first place, maybe, in this individual case, they would have been smart to keep it buried. "Darkness" is a cinematic mess beyond repair.
© 2004 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman