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2002 - 103m.

It seemed that in the late 90s/early 2000s every second horror flick coming out was from Miramax's genre arm Dimension so it's surprising I never watched Darkness. It's even more of a shock when I realized that it's co-produced by Brian Yuzna (Re-Animator, Society), has a pretty decent cast, and was directed by half of the team responsible for the first two [Rec] movies - which I consider in the pinnacle of the found footage sub-genre. All these reasons together makes it all the more disappointing that the resulting flick is a messy, confusingly plotted effort.

Opening with some pretty effective, quickly viewed flashbacks to dastardly goings on involving children, cult-like figures and a creepy house, things settle down into a pretty by-the-book set up early as, forty years later, an American family moves to the same house in Spain. As if it wasn't hard enough for teenage daughter Regina (Anna Paquin) to settle in, strange events soon start to happen including various creaky old house scare attempts, her little brother Paul (Stephan Enquist) having horrible nightmares and constantly waking with bruises on him, her bitchy mother Maria (Lena Olin) becoming more distant, and dad Mark (Iain Glen) even gets into the act by having bad seizures and visions - as well as a sudden personality transformation that's too abrupt to work. Amongst all this drama there's also a subplot that's tied into the events of four decades prior but, by the time these twists pop up their heads in the finale, we don't really care.

That's the main problem with Darkness - it's all style and little else. Directed by Jaume Balaguero with quite a bit of panache he does manage to deliver some okay mood at times but also relies a bit too much on jump cuts which help confuse us more than put us on edge. There's also a lot of vague, unconnected imagery (such as the dark figure with an umbrella that appears sporadically) but even these attempts can't distract us from a script (co-written by Balaguero and Fernando de Felipe) that swings like a pendulum that, instead of gaining momentum, behaves like something became stuck between its gears. Granted, there are a few striking ideas here such as the house's reliance on darkness to proceed with its evilness and the focus on the family's meltdown isn't a total wash, I just wish there would have been a little bit more cohesiveness.

After winning an Oscar for 1993's The Piano and coming off a co-starring role in X-Men, Paquin does an alright job in the lead here even if she's expected to have a frightened look pasted to her face a lot of the time. She'd go on to plentiful exposure (in more ways than one) on HBO's popular vampire series "True Blood". Scottish character actor Glen mostly goes over-the-top in his role while Olin, who was so awesome as a psychotic Russian assassin in Romeo is Bleeding, kind of sleepwalks through the entire thing swinging between parental discipline and odd behaviour.

Seeing as I sat through the 103 minutes "Unrated" version and was scratching my head a lot I'd hate to think how the 88 minute PG-13 cut plays out. However, even with the additional fifteen minutes, there's not a lot here to latch onto. I admire Balaguero's directing chops but there's too busy a plot, too much swelling music, and no real scares to keep my occupied. This is just a dull "old dark house" flick that despite trying to build ominous mood is crippled by a meandering first third, lots of stilted dialogue and the script trying to be more complex than necessary. This wasn't for me but it does have its fans and it was worth seeing just to compare it to Balaguero's later [Rec] efforts and see how different they are to what's on display here. (Chris Hartley, 7/23/14)

Directed By: Jaume Balaguero.
Written By: Jaume Balaguero, Fernando de Felipe.

Starring: Anna Paquin, Lena Olin, Iain Glen, Giancarlo Giannini.