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Darkness (2002)

Some secrets should never come to light

Starring:

Anna PaquinAnna Paquin

Craig Stevenson

Fele Martínez

Fermín Reixach

Francesc Pagés

Gemma Lozano

Giancarlo GianniniGiancarlo Giannini

Iain Glen

Joseph Roberts

Josh Gaeta

Lena OlinLena Olin

Marc Ferrando

Paula Fernández

Stephan Enquist

Xavier Allepuz

Directed by:

Jaume Balagueró

Rating: 3/10

Running Time: 102 minutes

US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 15

Country: Spain, United States

‘Darkness’ isn’t just the title of this movie – it’s also where it’s been hiding for the last three years, tucked away at the back of a shelf somewhere, waiting for Miramax to somehow deem it worthy of a big screen release. And, having just sat through this laughable, hackneyed attempt at horror, I can only say it’s little short of miraculous that ‘Darkness’ has managed to see the light of day at all. After all, it’s not unknown for considerably better material to go straight to DVD.

It’s the story of a family who move into a house where, unbeknownst to them, a gaggle of kiddies were murdered as part of a tenuous occult ritual 40 years previously. From the outset, it’s obvious to both the audience and teenage daughter Regina (Anna Paquin) that all is not well at Creepy Mansion: sprog Paul (Stephan Enquist) keeps waking up with bruises all over his neck, mum Maria (Lena Olin) seems to think pills are the answer to every problem under the sun, and dad Mark (a painfully over-acting Iain Glen) is losing the plot completely, culminating in his declaration that he’s being spied on by “whispering larvae” who apparently have their nest under the floorboards. Talking larvae?? Honestly, I ask you. Still, if you think that Dad sounds like he’s a bit doolally, just wait until you meet Gramps…

Director Jaume Balaguero tries every trick in the book to make this one work, from excessive use of movement in the shadows to accompanying practically every scene change with an inexplicable crash of the soundtrack. Unfortunately, his mounting desperation to succeed in the chills department is never enough to conceal the blatant fact that this whole thing is about as scary as a trip to the swings. It’s as if he watched an old copy of The Shining the night before going to the set, and thought to himself: “I can do that, no bother!” But, what he seemingly fails to realise, is that many of the elements which made The Shining great have long since become outright clichés of the genre, and it takes a special director indeed to wring any semblance of credibility out of them nowadays. Going by this showing, Balaguero is anything but special. It’s almost become something of a cliché for comedy legends to be haunted by inner demons. Peter Sellers was just one of many adored entertainers who, if this patchy biopic is anything to go by, slotted into the “tortured genius” pigeon-hole as well as any other comic luminary you could care to think of. Does that alone make his life worthy of a two-hour movie? Perhaps, but it’s a question that ‘The Life and Death of Peter Sellers’ struggles to answer with any conviction.

Here, the star of such chortlesome hits as The Pink Panther, Dr Strangelove and The Ladykillers is played by Geoffrey Rush. Caked in make-up, Rush bears an uncanny resemblance to Sellers, and gets practically every element of the guy’s mannerisms spot on, with the one crucial exception of his virtually unmatchable comic talent. You could say, then, that Rush comes as close to perfecting the role as anyone could.

Of course, most of us have seen a Sellers film at one point or another, and wrinklier viewers will also be familiar with his early radio work as part of ‘The Goons’ (look out for Steve ‘The League of Gentlemen’ Pemberton doing a cracking impression of Harry Secombe), but this is a film less concerned with his career than his private life, and what it was that made him tick. It’s a nice idea, but the problem is that – by all accounts – Sellers the man and Sellers the man on-screen generally over-lapped to the point that few people really knew the real him. It’s an issue the film does highlight, but essentially it’s one that director Stephen Hopkins struggles to get to grips with. Hopkins – whose patchy CV includes Predator 2 and Lost in Space – tries to show us said overlap via colourful, artsy fantasy sequences, all of which are nice to look at but invariably lack focus.

The screenplay – written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, and taking its lead from the Roger Lewis book of the same name – is bland in quality and surprisingly lacking in comic relief. Couple that with Hopkins’ at-times painfully slow direction and you’re left with a viewing experience which rapidly turns into a bit of a chore.

The only real triumphs come from the actors, with Rush’s admirable display matched by side players like Emily Watson as Sellers’ long-suffering ex-missus Anne, Charlize Theron as wifey number two Britt Ekland, John Lithgow as Blake Edwards and Stanley Tucci as Stanley Kubrick. Also among this impressive line-up are the likes of Stephen Fry, Nigel Havers, Edward Tudor-Pole, Heidi Klum, and Mackenzie Crook. With some better material to work with, who knows how impressive a production that lot might have been able to come up with?

It's Got: A supposedly close-knit family who all act as if they’d never even clapped eyes on each other before being shoved in front of the camera.

It Needs: Someone to turn on the lights and bring this hokum to the premature end it deserves.

Summary

What lurks in the shadows may well be evil, but it’s nowhere near as bad as the acting, dialogue and direction in this banal horror-plop.

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