Taking a break from his band and the music scene, Marek returns to his childhood home to take it easy and work on his paintings. From hearing about the legends regarding the house, Marek begins to explore the past and as a result digs through his own as well. The more secrets he uncovers about the house the more strange things start to occur and soon Marek isn't able to tell if it’s the ghosts who are haunting him or his own past.
"Darkness" is one of the latest titles to be released under Breaking Glass Pictures' horror label, Vicious Circle Films. I hadn't heard about it until I received the screener from them and I was quite surprised to see that this is not only a Czech based movie but also from the same director who made the infamous late 60's movie "The Cremator".
Even though I didn't know much going into "Darkness" I was excited to jump right in as I've always been a sucker for a good ghost flick. The story for "Darkness" is pretty simple and straight forward: Marek, a musician for a popular band, takes a hiatus and returns to his childhood home to work on his paintings and for some piece and quite. The longer Marek stays in the house the more repressed memories he begins to recall along with the increasingly strange activities that surround the house. The more secrets that he tries to uncover about his house and his past seems to bring out the dark presence from the basement and engulfs Marek. The sun never seems to come out, he's seeing people and children that aren't actually there, and his friends go missing.
I don't want to go too much into the story and spoil it for anybody but "Darkness" is as much of a murder/mystery as it is a horror/ghost flick. There is a secondary storyline revolving around Marek's sister, the death of their parents, and the ties it has to the house's past. So it has a story that, while simple, is engaging enough that most people should be able to get into it. Continuing on with the good; "Darkness" has a solid atmosphere that builds from the haunting activities and the various mysteries up until the very end. There is a moment when Marek is talking to one of his friends and mentions not having seen the sun for days. It was interesting that he said this because I hadn't noticed it before, but the movie actually continuously gets darker as it progresses. It was one of those nice little touches the movie has that sets the mood and makes it a good modern supernatural movie. To go along with the concept of the story, the movie plays on the idea of whether or not what we the audience is seeing is real. Are these apparitions real or are they in Marek's head? It establishes that connection between us the audience and the protagonist Marek and draws us into the mystery.
Now with the bad; while not exactly a bad thing "Darkness" has a heavy influence from Western horror movies. From the way it is shot, to the way it exposes us to the ghosts and hauntings of the movie often which results in a cheap jump scare. Ghost movies are most effective when we don't actually see what the "source" is. Playing on sounds, what we don't see, and in general the less-is-more angle. Somewhere along the lines though modern horror movies decided that you needed to see the "ghosts" to be frightened or to have the movie effect you, and unfortunately "Darkness" decideds to follow this methodology. More often than not though these reveals fall back on being a cheap jump scare which is what makes it such a disappointing direction for the movie to take. Since it seems to make these moments less effective rather than if it didn't expose too much. For example: the scene of Marek seeing the shadows on the walls moving around is far more creepy when compared to scenes of the actual children walking down the hall or into a room.
The thing that hurts the movie the most though is it suffers from really bad editing. Once again as result from that Western influence, "Darkness" moves at a quick pace from the start. Never really taking time to let the mood and the audience settle. Because it moves so quickly there are a number of times where scenes just blur into one another and cause a bit of confusion. Such as a scene where a young boy delivers food to Marek; he gives the kid some money and then walks into the next room where some activity occurs and results in Marek having a meltdown. Since there is no real transition between scenes, you expect to see a reaction from the kid aswell but he's not there as time has passed since he visited. Because of the editing, you're unaware of this passage of time and think this new scene is merely continuing on from the previous. Especially since the only thing you see between the two scenes is Marek walking into the next room. Moments like this occur through out the movie and unfortunately up until the twist ending (Yes, there's a twist ending.) which results in the story and the conclusion becoming a bit convoluted.
Since the ending remains unclear in certain aspects and the story becomes a bit jumbled from the bad editing and the unnecessarily quick pace, "Darkness" isn't as good as it could have been. But with that being said, it has a good story that has enough mystery and atmosphere with some ghostly-charm in there that I have to say I enjoyed watching it. I'd even go so far as to say it got down right creepy and chilling at times. Personally, I would like to have seen more of the movie have an influence from Czech's own film industry and Juraj Herz's past filmmaking skills, rather than the Westernized style it has. In the long run though it maybe best that movie does have the Western influence for the simple fact it will make it easier for the Western audience get into it because of the familiarity.