I have been wanting to write this review for some time now. I discovered this film on a whim seemingly ages ago. Strangely, I had not heard of it at all. I watched by myself one day completely at random. I thought it was fantastic! It has so much going for it and none of it was what passes for modern “horror film” of today. If you detected my sarcastic sneer right there, then you know what I am about to say next.
I love it when a Horror movie is reviled because “it isn’t very scarey”. Really? Allow me – once more – to explain the difference between Horror fiction and film. Horror fiction is (to paraphrase Wikipedia) “a genre of literature, which is intended to, or has the capacity to frighten its readers, scare or startle readers by inducing feelings of horror and terror by creating an eerie and frightening atmosphere.” Horror film “a film genre seeking to elicit a negative emotional reaction from viewers by playing on the audience’s primal fears. Horror films often feature scenes that startle the viewer.”
Get it? Horror as writing goes creates an atmosphere to scare you shitless. It scares you because the atmosphere it creates induces your fears. In a sense, it has lured your mind into a scenario where it has created fear inside you. A Horror film on the other hand, is striving for a negative reaction in you the viewer. In simple terms a Horror movie seeks to startle you and/or piss you off. GREAT Horror movies feel more like Horror fiction than film.
Okay, so where does “Darkness” rank in the scope of my esteemed grading system for Horror films? High up there, folks. It has a stereotypical plot, but that suddenly derails and becomes something twisted. It has supernatural elements, but they are so subtle in their portrayal that they seem almost trivial. The real villains of the story aren’t the monsters but mortals. And the ending is …priceless.
Folks, this is what makes a true Horror film in my opinion. It is unexpected, frightening, subtle, great acting, and something truly creepy is expressed. The concept of being afraid of the dark comes out as a central theme, but it is just devilish in how it is used throughout this film. You see ghostly images lurking the darkened corners of a room. They don’t pop out at you and say “BOO!”. It’s nothing so garish and cheap as that – even though this tactic is used still today in modern Horror films. It’s so lame! Seeing those ghostly faces with blackened eyes staring at you from the shadows and never emerging is FAR more effective!
The best part of “Darkness” is that the true monsters are the people involved in this plot, not some burned-demon or masked maniac. THAT is really an effective twist in this film and I thought it made the movie. Anna Paquin does a fine job in the film, especially towards the climatic high point near the end of the film. But Giancarlo Giannini is FANTASTIC as the grandfather! He owns this film, hands-down. Of course, having Iain Glen and Lena Olin in the film as the parents made the film like ten times better than it could have been with other actors. The entire film I was waiting for Glen to turn evil or Olin to be revealed as the mastermind behind this entire wicked story! Neither came true, but how cool is that?! Glen’s portrayal of going mad is a classic bit of cinema. Ranks right up there with Nicholson in Kubrick’s “The Shining“.
It is no surprise that this is technically a foreign film, since it was made in Spain. Sadly, this film never saw a major US release. Literally, NEVER. It was shelved for a year and then debuted at Christmas? Then it was released in the UK a year after that. So a film that was made in Spain, premiered in Spain the same year, and then just disappeared. Bizarre, right? Here’s something even more bizarre: it ended up grossing more than 3 times its measly budget of $10 million – despite some pretty negative reviews.
This brings me to another hallowed point: the rebuttal of the angry Christian. When any film teeters on the edge of something Satanic, the Christian community lashes out at it, usually very loudly. My only real question is: if you thought there was even a chance of the subject matter turning that way, why go see the film? It is baffling to me, and it only proves one thing: these people have nothing better to do. Rather than delve into it in great detail, allow me to state this clearly: this film talks about “evil” and “darkness” and the “supernatural” because it is a Horror film and that’s kind of expected I think. [To read an interesting thread of conversation on this exact point, check out the IMDB.com Message Board post on it HERE.
In summary, “Darkness” is an excellent choice for Halloween viewing. It is stylish in a subtle way, with some great acting and some stunning plot twists. If you have a fear of the dark, then this movie will certainly get you. And if you are an angry Christian, this film will also get you. Regardless, I found it to be a strong Horror movie with just the right amount of elements of Horror fiction to make this one a GREAT Horror film.
…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE.
- Team Top 10: Horror Films AFTER “The Exorcist” (thefilmexperience.net)
- Why Do We Watch Horror Films? Some Want To Understand Archetypal Fears While Others Crave The Psychological Ride (medicaldaily.com)