While atmosphere has certainly been a crucial ingredient to the success of many a horror film, Jaume Balagueró's 2002 effort Darkness aptly demonstrates that atmosphere alone does not suffice. Anna Paquin stars as an American teen struggling to adjust to her family's new life in Spain. Foreign relocation, actually, is the smallest of her many problems: Her sensitive younger brother (Stephan Enquist) is withdrawn, covered in mysterious bruises, and obsessed with producing a series of violent drawings. Her high-strung father (Iain Glen) is beginning to experience reoccurrences of a decade-dormant mental condition that results in debilitating fits and violent outbursts. Her headstrong mother (Lena Olin) refuses to acknowledge the possibility of trouble in the family. If that weren't enough to haunt the moody heroine, her family's old and isolated house may also be inhabited by the ghosts of six children murdered 40 years ago as part of a grisly occult sacrifice. Right from the frantically edited opening credits, one suspects that director Balagueró (who co-wrote the screenplay with Fernando de Felipe) is leaning a little too heavily on aesthetics to conjure mood. His visuals are slick but only artificially horror movie-like, not dissimilar to the food-like qualities of processed "food." Darkness features all of the familiar sensory triggers, but, despite the promising casting of the likable Paquin as the movie's emotional anchor, he never molds adequate material to warrant the service of his style, and the whole enterprise falls flat as a result. Paquin is as good as could be exepcted, and both Enquist and suave veteran Giancarlo Giannini also acquit themselves well, despite the writers' lack of regard for motivation. The uninspired screenplay is so beholden to the horror-mystery formula that it only distinguishes itself with its relatively sparse dialogue. Fans of bad horror movies might eke some amusement from the gratuitously nondescript boyfriend character Carlos (Fele Martínez), whose presence in the movie is absolutely pointless until the final few un-shocking minutes. While the script's familiar concept (The Amityville Horror would organically spring to mind if it weren't mentioned on the DVD packaging) holds some potential for thrills, the hollow, predictable, and exposition-laden scenario undermines that slim promise. Darkness is not only not scary in the least, it is barely memorable, which might be its strongest asset. Buena Vista's "Unrated Version" DVD release doesn't contain any material that would ruffle a mild R-rating, so don't expect any illicit thrills. The film is presented in a good anamorphic transfer (2.40:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras include a behind-the-scenes featurette and a theatrical the trailer. Keep-case.
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