The roster of IFC’s Midnight line has since its inception been notably sketchy at best, with artful and memorable releases like Kill List, Berberian Sound Studio, Dream Home, and Super being heavily outweighed by titles seemingly picked up exclusively for satisfying VOD services and their necessity for abundant library-filling genre titles. Last year IFC Midnight walloped horror fans with the trifecta punch of Antibirth, Beyond the Gates, and The Autopsy of Jane Doe, all among 2016’s most exhausting and depressing cinematic experiences – and surely not up to snuff for what should be horror equivalents to IFC’s main line releases like Personal Shopper, Wiener-Dog, or Certain Women (the latter of which is perhaps the single best American film of the past several years).
In a year like 2016 that was brutally barren in terms of the horror genre, Netflix’s own I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, directed by Oz Perkins, was the brightest shining specter of hope. How have the tables turned that the behemothic movie-eating machine of Netflix managed to far outshine a should-be hipper / more on-the-ground company like IFC? The Midnight line’s model of distributing and promoting the work of independent talent in genre filmmaking remains admirable, so who among the selection team is responsible for such a huge dearth of quality releases?
Surely there is more refreshing material left to languish without wide release? At the very least, it would be hard to imagine something more toothless and drab, or less worthy of attention, than the gray and dreary yawn of Darkness Rising. Even those involved in the film will have difficulty recalling its generic title within a year or two’s time. Meanwhile, it can rest perfectly in a queue of similar horror releases, collecting dust only to be interrupted by an occasional Redbox curiosity rental. Additionally difficult to imagine: anyone fully satisfied with their rental, once they have sat through such a poorly scripted flatline of a motion picture.
A couple of friends revisit a decrepit abandoned crime-scene – once a childhood home. Upon entering they find themselves unable to leave, and inevitably fall prey to the maddening effects of the evil presence within. Darkness Rising is a depressingly honest example of less-is-less – where every failing of the film, and every significant lack of money, resources, and creativity, is impossible to ignore. The generic plotting is only the tip of the ship-sinking iceberg.
The era of digital filmmaking has allowed for editing teams to sabotage their own films with obnoxiously aggressive digital colour grades, reducing the visual palette of their work’s imagery into near monochromatic simplicity. It’s a modern trend anchored in groan-worthy creative shorthand, from the over-lauded head-scratcher of Neon Demon’s senseless red and blue faux-arthouse visuals, to this film’s approach of applying what looks like a thick veneer of dark gray and desaturated blue to every frame. Darkness Rising is certainly visually redundant, like some foggy and dimly lit filmic equivalent of background noise – or maybe akin to one of those Halloween spooky sound effects CD’s. Tonally, structurally, and narratively Darkness Rising is much of the same. Instead of ratcheting from one to ten, it stays at a rumbling and gnawing three for feature length.
That visual look is presumably an attempt to compensate for the lack of attention in production design, but the haphazard post-production darkening fails to remedy the supposedly twenty-plus-year-abandoned haunted house’s distinctly disappointing lack of atmospheric cobweb, must, dust or decay. And everywhere else the film’s technical failings stick out like sore thumbs – with stock cues and sound effect drops telegraphing scares before they happen. The actors stumble their way through ineptly designed dialogues littered with insurmountable levels of expository side-steps. The audience struggles to keep their eyelids from drooping during the course of an eighty-minute slog towards a delayed pay-off that never arrives.
Unfortunately, Darkness Rising feels so maliciously like a trap – a film its distribution studio doesn’t properly believe in, but picks up regardless to roll-out on unsuspecting or indiscriminate customers. With a moderately intriguing logline, matched alongside a snazzy and hip poster, it is another unfortunate ‘gotcha!’. This is once more a case where the distributor and marketers are slicker and cleverer than those who actually made the film – and not to anyone’s benefit. Darkness Rising offers nothing more than a feature length compilation encompassing botched deliveries of stilted dialogue, stock sound design, and dark blurry visual jitters. It in fact has nothing to offer – instead it only takes: time, money, and space on the proverbial shelf that should be filled by more deserving material.
Darkness Rising hits select theatres, VOD and digital on June 30, 2017.
WICKED RATING: 2/10
Director: Austin Reading
Writer: Vikram Weet
Studio / Production Co.: Bump in the Night, Compass Entertainment, IFC Films, Liquid Theory, Storyboard Entertainment
Release date: June 30, 2017
Length: 90 minutes