Written by: Giuseppe Rijitano on August 24th, 2010
Theatrical Release Date: Czech Republic, July 7th 2009
Director: Juraj Herz
Writer: Martin Nemec (screenplay)
Cast: Ivan Franek, Lenka Krobotová, Malgorzata Kozuchowska, Michal Dlouhý, Andrej Hryc, Zuzana Kronerová
DVD released: September 7th, 2010
Approximate running time: 90 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital Stereo Czech
DVD Release: Breaking Glass Pictures
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $19.99
Marek (Ivan Franek) is a musician that’s giving his rock band a break to work on his painting. To get away from the temptations of drugs, alcohol and women he’s rented an old property out in the sticks that he lived in briefly as a young boy. It’s an out of the way place with a lot of unfriendly locals and the house itself is fairly falling apart. Add to that Marek has started having flashbacks to his tragic childhood when his parents died in a car crash near the house and his troubled sister lost an eye while playing down in the basement. The same sister that is now in a mental institution but has recently escaped. The house and the land it was built on apparently has a history of violence dating back thousands of years but more recently it was occupied by the Nazis during WWII for nefarious purposes that will soon be revealed to Marek via the supernatural echoes that still infest the property……….
Directed by prolific Czech filmmaker Juraj Herz who began his career in the 60’s and is most fondly remembered for his creepy 1969 offering The Cremator. Still going strong at the age of 77 this is his 31st feature film and Darkness was an official selection at the 2009 Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.
It’s a genre film of the kind that has been done to death of late; a haunted/creepy house in the middle of nowhere that harbors deadly supernatural secrets of the pain and misery of those that died within it’s walls. Things go bump in the night, tales of bizarre pagan rituals and sacrifice recounted by mad old coot, shadows creeping, doors slamming, etc – but through it all no real sense of peril or even one decent scare unfortunately. The film attempts to juggle quite a few different plot strands but doesn’t really give any of them the attention they deserve and when they are brought together in the end it’s something of a massive anticlimax. Herz is obviously a talented filmmaker, the cinematography is excellent, a gloomy grey menacing quality pervades every frame. The acting is also very good with Franek carrying the film nicely and the actress that plays his sister suitably unhinged as the escaped mental patient. But the story is ultimately a bore; very little actually happens besides endless shots of Marek wandering around his house with a confused look on his face. Ghostly goings on are few and far between with a couple of short bits of gore thrown in here and there almost as an afterthought – look out for the completely unnecessarily lengthy leg amputation scene.
There are moments to like in Darkness; the flashback to the truly horrific Nazi atrocities, the little instances of CGI that are used quite effectively to shock us, the dark atmosphere, the actually quite funny eventual discovery that Marek’s misfortunes as a young boy were down to the same two crazy women that are now still fighting over him. As a whole it’s not a particularly bad film just a very forgettable one – which is perhaps just as bad if not worse. Herz may have been trying to put a new spin on the classic haunted house story in the same vein as Bayona’s The Orphanage he just forgot to bring the thrills and emotion that might hook the audience into giving a damn!
The 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen picture looks excellent; crisp and clear image, colors are strong and vivid with excellent contrast levels. The stereo audio track is clean and clear with every bump and squeak of the haunted house coming through strong and the dialog balanced nicely with the subdued soundtrack.
The official release will apparently contain a 5.1 audio track as well as a making of featurette, neither of which were included on this screener.