Rating 3

Directed by Jaume Balagueró

Written by Jaume Balagueró and Fernando de Felipe, with additional dialogue by Miguel Tejada-Flores

Starring Anna Paquin, Lena Olin, Iain Glen, Giancarlo Giannini, Fele Martínez, Fermí Reixach and Stephen Enquist

For those who do not already know this, I should start my review by saying I like horror films and I am particularly fond of haunted house stories.

An American family move into an architecturally unusual and dilapidated house situated on the outskirts of an unnamed city in Spain. The house, which was built forty years earlier, but appears to be much older, has apparently never previously been inhabited.

The father Mark (Iain Glen) previously suffered from a disease related to Huntington’s, although this was successfully treated with medication and he now longer displays symptoms of the illness. He spends his time aimlessly working on the house. Maria (Lena Olin) has a job in the city that often requires her to work late, but there is never any actual mention of what it is she does. Their slightly sullen teenage daughter Regina (Academy Award winner Anna Paquin, who is top billed here) seems to be beyond high school age and her only apparent activity is swimming lesions, which is where she meets Carlos (Fele Martínez). The youngest child is Paul (Stephen Enquist).

Mark had been brought up in this Spanish city until the age of seven, when his parents separated and his mother took him to America. His father Albert Riu (Giancarlo Giannini) still lives in the city and is a respected doctor at the local hospital.

Regina claims to feel a strange and troubling aura in the house. She becomes increasingly concerned when her father begins to exhibit symptoms of his illness again and she spots bruising on Paul’s neck. She tries to talk to her mother, who refuses to listen to her and dismisses her fears out of hand. She then turns to Carlos, telling him she was terrified of her father before his treatment. Mark is prescribed new medication by Albert Riu, who also talks to Paul and concludes there is nothing to worry about. However, the unexplained events in the house continue and become increasingly strange and scary.

The story continues in this vein until reaching a climax that seems to draw on a hotchpotch of ancient superstitions from various religions about the nature of darkness and Hell.

‘Darkness’ was a joint American/Spanish production, filmed in the Cataluña region of Spain. It has an international cast. Anna Paquin was born in Canada and raised in New Zealand. Lena Olin is Swedish, Iain Glen is Scottish and Stephen Enquist was born in Singapore. Giancarlo Giannini is Italian. The film premiered in Spain in October 2002 and was released into cinemas around Europe during 2002 and 2003. However, its American release was delayed until the end of 2004 and it was not released in Britain until 2005. It was greeted with very poor reviews. Rotten Tomatoes collects 50 together, resulting in a dismal 4% rotten rating.

The film is rather unfocused and incoherent. I particularly found the behaviour of Maria mystifying throughout. She would certainly get my vote as the most negligent parent I have ever come across in a film. She exhibits a complete lack of interest in her children and almost total apathy towards the very obvious mental decline of her husband. Her response to the bruising on Paul’s neck is to dismiss it as of no concern and when Regina attempts to share her fears she suggests her daughter pack her bags and sling her hook.

I could not make up my mind about the acting, although I do like Anna Paquin very much. There were times when the actors did not seem too clear themselves about what they were doing. Whether this is the result of the problems of language barriers working with a Spanish director I do not know. However, what this does is increase the sense of the curious dysfunctional inability to communicate that smoothers the family, so in some strange way it is almost to the benefit of the story.

‘Darkness’ shares a similar feel with Japanese horror films and I was particularly put in mind of ‘The Grudge 2’, Takashi Shimizu’s joint Japanese/American film from 2006. Like that film, I would hesitate to recommend ‘Darkness’, but for all of its very obvious faults, I did enjoy it very much and plan to watch it again at some point.

Miguel Tajada-Flores, who contributed additional dialogue to the screenplay, would later write the very silly ‘Decoys 2: Alien Seduction’.

Screencaps taken from anna-paquin.net

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