A curious haunted house film that struggles to find its footing in a small-scale film with large-scale ambitions.
Synopsis: Spanning one hundred years, and filled with mythology and folklore we start in the present day where writer Lisa and entrepreneur David are desperate for a brief escape from their hectic London lives. They take up residence in an old remote home in Ballyvadlea, Ireland, where Lisa has plans to start writing her new book and David has a business plan to work on…but the house has other ideas. When strange things start to occur Lisa uses her investigative skills and discovers a memoir of a woman called Niav and delves deep into the past. But unlocking long closed doors has awoken a dormant evil spirit…and now the nightmare begins.
The Darkness is an interesting film, chasing the atmosphere of a time-spanning, haunting tale of betrayal and cyclical troubles, but appears to be limited by the budget and also a tendency to disrupt its pace by lingering on elements that neither further the plot, nor add atmosphere.
One of my issues with the central couple is a relative lack of chemistry, although some of this is undoubtedly linked to the scripting. At the outset, David (Cyril Blake) veers from talking about his mostly unspecified business duties or sex with wife Lisa (Amelia Eve) in clumsy characterisation that does little to endear you to the couple. The performances are solid, but hampered by the way they are constructed in this sense. In addition to David’s limited interests, Lisa appears too ill at ease in the house before she is given cause for alarm. It feels a little like the film is so concerned with the bigger picture that it forgets to set the ground it needs for that to truly impact.
This extends into the film’s handling of its horror material with some scenes jammed with musical cues and a sense of importance that fail to manifest. On the other hand, some moments that feel more deserving of fanfare pass quietly and unremarkably. There is an abrupt shift from uncanny oddness into the full-blown supernatural within one scene that again, can’t help but feel muted as that sense of progression is lost. There are some timing issues with other reveals, leading to a first half that feels sparse and a second half in which there is almost too much information to absorb.
Despite these issues, the film does satisfy some ghost story elements, leaning into the quieter, spooky moments of productions like Ghost Stories for Christmas to varying success. There is clear attention to detail on smaller, creepier elements, ticking some necessary haunting boxes as it progresses. The split across time is well handled too, with clarity and cohesion. Quirky, stalled transition shots lend an uneasy atmosphere which are successful in drawing the viewer’s eye.
A horror film with good ideas and ambition that can’t quite turn its eye for the creepy into a more solid final product, The Darkness is to be commended for attempting to scale what would otherwise be a standard story.
The Darkness is available on digital in the UK from May 3rd.