I love road trips. Not because I'm especially fond of sitting in my car for days at a time, but because with each passing mile a promise is fulfilled. Every hour behind the wheel draws you nearer to your destination, and along the way you can sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride. But, though paperback self-help writers may tell you otherwise, the journey itself is not enough. You have to actually get somewhere to make the whole trip worthwhile. And if, at the end of a day's travel, you haven't gone anywhere at all, you've wasted all your time and a whole lot of gas.
Like a long road trip to nowhere, Spanish director Jaume Balagueró's Darkness is miserable, frustrating, and hard on the buttocks. Though the film's run time is a mere 102 minutes, the psychological impact of wasting precious money and energy staring at the screen and waiting for something -- anything -- to happen could take years off your life.
Christmas season always puts me in the mood for a good horror flick, so I had high hopes for Darkness. And with The Unbearable Lightness of Being's Lena Olin carrying a major role, this picture looked like a slam dunk. So I settled into my seat and got comfortable as the story began to unfold.
Forty years ago, something terrible happened. Six children were killed in a creepy old house in the hills outside a strangely unspecified Spanish city. A seventh child survived. Now an unsuspecting family has moved into the house and strange things are afoot. The ghosts of the dead children still hide in the dark recesses of the old manse, watching as the family goes through the mundane motions of daily life.
Days pass. The family eats meals and stands around talking. Sometimes the power goes out. Everyone's feeling a little weirded out, but nobody knows why. More days pass. The dad has a sudden relapse of some disease that makes him unduly agitated. More days go by, and the son, Paul (Stephan Enquist), keeps losing his pencils and gets some odd bruises around his neck. A few more days, and the family finds a hidden room under the stairs, filled with some strange objects. And still more days go by.
Somewhere in all this passing of time, the daughter, Regina (Anna Paquin), somehow pieces together what's been happening in their new home. It seems that some kind of kooky death cult built this place with the hope of bringing about an age of eternal darkness. But to make that happen, a seventh child must die. Then a bunch of incoherent things happen and somebody does die. A few people, actually. But it's not really scary so much as it is annoying to watch. And by the time the story finally arcs toward its conclusion, the inevitability of the ending (coupled with the fact that some character always says some stupid thing to completely give away what's about to happen) makes it entirely unsatisfying. I've been to carnival haunted houses with more fear factor than this film.
Jaume Balagueró completely fails to deliver anything remotely resembling an engaging story in this trite, juvenile film. His characters are almost completely flat and undeveloped. His plot is convoluted and absurd. And his dialog alternates between incomprehensibly opaque and moronically over-projected, with little or no middle ground. When he withholds from the audience, he gives them nothing at all. When he gives, he gives away everything.
Darkness is a film perpetually engaged in the building of suspense, like a roller coaster climbing ominously toward its highest and most thrilling peak. But at the top of each peak, there is no fall to be had. Just a slow and meandering roll toward the next big climb. And just when you expect a final exhilarating plunge to send you screaming with your hands in the air, the car clanks back into the boarding station and the ride is over.
The sole extra on DVD is a short behind-the-scenes documentary.
Let's clean it up, Paquin.