- The Washington Times - Monday, December 27, 2004

A lot of spooky things can happen to a horror film left to mold on a shelf for two years. The 2002 film “Darkness,” released Christmas Day without benefit of critical screenings, might have seemed novel had “The Grudge” and “The Ring” (2002) not preceded it.

Those films tantalized us with images of otherworldly children as the source of our fears.

In “Darkness,” those same elements already appear shopworn, but then again so does much of this wannabe haunted-house thriller. Very little of what transpires makes sense, and what can be sussed out has been swiped from a dozen better fright flicks.

Oscar-winner Anna Paquin (“The Piano”) stars as Regina, an American teenager whose family relocates into a spooky house in Spain. The Spanish setting never adds to the suspense or novelty of the story — this tale could have been told anywhere without changing a single scene.

Regina suspects something is amiss in their new home, which unbeknownst to them was the scene of a grisly killing years earlier. Her younger brother keeps drawing bizarre patterns with his colored pencils and waking up with new bruises on his body each morning. Plus, the house’s electrical system sure flickers and fades at the worst of times.

Her mother, played by Lena Olin with all the emotive clarity of Anna Nicole Smith, is too busy fretting over her husband Mark (Iain Glen), and his mysterious seizures, to be a fit parent. You see, Mark may be connected to the house’s violent past.

Regina begins investigating both the house and the back story behind it and comes up with some frightening conclusions. Her showdown with the evil spirits in the house coincide with a solar eclipse which happens only once every 40 years. That’s a darkness that can’t be quelled by the flick of a light switch.

Miss Paquin, whose wide-eyed face is ideal for this genre, can’t wring goose bumps out of thin air no matter how softly she pads about the house. It’s also left vague why the family appears haunted well before the house starts acting up.

Director/co-writer Jaume Balaguero, a Spanish filmmaker making his English language debut, shows greater promise as a pure visualist than a storyteller. His snippets of the late children inhabiting the house are genuinely unnerving and he maneuvers his camera in a way that would maximize frights, if any were waiting to be exploited.

Horror films often leave much of their plotting to the viewer’s discretion. But Mr. Balaguero doesn’t have the good sense to solve a few key riddles on our behalf. The film is all atmosphere, and its ending left audience members at a Sunday night showing groaning in protest. The best that can be said about “Darkness” is that it never panders to the slasher-film mentality.

The film’s lack of bloodletting may be due to some hasty editing choices, not a modicum of taste. The film feels rigged for a PG-13 crowd, especially during moments when the word “freakin’” is used over and again in a time of crisis.

The best chance “Darkness” had to make a few bucks back for its studio, Dimension Films, was to come out during Halloween. October offers safe haven to the worst horror films, a label “Darkness” richly deserves.

*

TITLE: “Darkness”

RATING: R (terror violence and harsh language)

CREDITS: Directed by Jaume Balaguero. Screenplay by Fernando de Felipe

RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes

WEB SITE: https://movies.fantasticfactory. com/darkness/

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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