July 3, 2018 Darkness Reigns (Movie Review)
Darkness shall reign on July 10, 2018, for that is when Wild Eye Releasing brings forth Darkness Reigns. It was written, produced and directed by Andrew P. Jones (Naked and Afraid series, Haunting of Cellblock 11 2014), and he got Casper Van Dien (Starship Troopers 1997, Sleepy Hollow 1999), Zachary Mooren (Aquarius series, Criminal Minds series) and Linara Washington (Kings of the Evening 2008, Grey’s Anatomy series) to join him for this ride.
It has an interesting start, in that this is a film within a film. Darkness Reigns is about the premiere of a new film called Darkness Reigns, that has enraptured Hollywood. It has even made a star out of its director Daniel Whitaker (Mooren.) But what is it about? Whitaker describes it to his in-film audience, but it is essentially a documentary about an attempt to make a fictional film. Whitaker took his cast, including Dien (as himself), to a reportedly haunted house to shoot a movie. Except it turns out to hold something worse than ghosts: everyone on set gets attacked by a demonic force seeking to cash in on a deal it made with one of them. But who made the deal, and do they manage to survive to tell their tale or will the demon get its due?
There are some interesting things about the film. For example, at the beginning, the casting director is going through headshots. The one for the character Rebecca Logan is the same as the one used on IMDB for her real-life actress Jennifer Wenger (Jimmy Kimmel Live series, The Bill Murray Experience 2017) – at least at the time of this writing. It is not much, but it adds to the blurring of reality and fiction the film has going for it. Although a little bit of spice would help things, as the film is rather slow-going for its first half.
Darkness Reigns follows in the footsteps of 1999’s The Blair Witch Project or 2008’s Cloverfield, in that, it is told from the camera’s viewpoint; this is all supposed to be raw, behind-the-scenes footage for the in-film movie. If all went to plan, it would have been DVD/Blu-ray extra features filler. But instead, aside from catching on-set tensions between crew and cast, it captures occasionally spooky things too. Sometimes they are fake-outs or vague signs that could be something more. But then it eventually picks up. Possibly. Hopefully. Maybe?
Okay, yes it does. It is when the film throws in a little bit of 1973’s The Exorcist into its Horror bouillabaisse. That and a sprinkling of 1980’s The Shining for good measure. It has some strong effects work, with some fancy, if familiar, touches. This does not just refer to the CGI either, but there are some nice, subtle, computer-free hints towards the demon’s work too. If there was a negative, it would be that some of the grislier, standard props are not quite as convincing.
The acting does make up for it, as the performances are largely solid across the board. Washington sounds a little shaky at times, but only by a touch. Peter Mayer (The Black Hole 2006, Sleep with Me 2015) brings in some ham as Sidney the Medium, who tries to communicate with the demon. He is full of high pronouncements, prayers, and even a little sass as he tries to handle things spiritually. Mooren does a fair job too as the protagonist, though he spends most of the film holding the camera. He occasionally appears in front of it, to get his time to emote and react, yet otherwise he is admiring his handiwork before it goes belly-up.
Dien is fine too, playing the big name who, even for cult film status, is perhaps too big for the film-within-the-film. It is just that art may have imitated life here, in that the top-of-the-bill star is not headlining this act. That is not to say he is an eye-widening, random cameo like Christian Slater in 1990’s Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. His appearance is perhaps more akin to Steven Seagal in 1996’s Executive Decision. He is there, he makes some impact, but he should not count his blessings too soon.
But is Darkness Reigns worth sitting through? The acting is fair, the effects are solid, and it has some nice direction going on. Though it is treading familiar ground with its story and handheld-camera style. The payoff to the story is a little hokey too, as it did better with its scares than its reveal; it has more happening in it than Blair Witch, but its parts make up an average whole. It will not hurt to watch but it will not dazzle audiences either, though it might be a good choice for someone’s first Horror film. As such, CrypticRock gives Darkness Reigns 2.5 of 5 stars.