Darkness Reigns, Andrew P. Jones’s latest horror entry, begins with director Jacob Bale (James Packard), receiving a call that a “big name” the studio wants for his horror movie is signing onto the low budget horror venture. With everything now in place, the crew prep and head to the location of the shoot- an abandoned hotel that is supposedly haunted, which was acquired for virtually no money.
All of that, as well as the shoot itself, is being documented by Daniel (Zachary Mooren) and Aaron (Ford Fanter) for behind the scenes material. Every once in awhile they’ll grab a production designer, or the director of photography, or one of the stars, “the name” Casper Van Dien (himself) or Rebecca Long (Jennifer Wenger) for a quick interview. These interviews are about what the movie means to them, why they signed on, do they believe in ghosts or the supernatural, and other softball questions to talk up the film.
Immediately following the filming of the Van Dien segment, an unseen force slams the actor off the balcony to the lobby of the hotel. As the crew scrambles to find out if he is alive, most of them begin vomiting and convulsing. By the end, only the make-up artist Vanessa (Linara Washington), the medium Sidney (Peter Mayer) who is serving as the consultant on the movie, and, of course, the duo recording the production are left standing. As they attempt to find a way out of the hotel, who survives? Will the reason behind the demonic attacks be uncovered?
First things first, writer-director Andrew P. Jones should not be mistaken for the British independent movie-making maverick Andrew Jones. With that out of the way, Andrew P. Jones’s script finds a clever workaround to one of the most significant problems in the found footage genre. The reason that the camera continues rolling throughout all the horrific events makes sense. Revealing it constitutes a bit of a spoiler, so just trust that a fair amount of forward-thinking went into ensuring it makes sense.
“…the crew scrambles to find out if he is alive, most of them begin vomiting and convulsing.”
Jones also crafts several engaging characters, so the audience invests in their well being. Sidney is full of life and is in fact, not a fake medium, and is never presumed to be one. It is a nice change of pace from the traditional portrayal of psychics in films such as this. Vanessa is kind and really wants to help everyone possible. While Daniel and Aaron have bigger aspirations to be certain, their backstories and friendship are genuine.
It helps that the cast is quite capable and all acquit themselves well. Aaron walks into a bedroom after hearing a voice and sees his mom lying in bed. The problem is that his mom has been deceased for years. Fanter plays this scene, vacillating between exuberance at seeing her and lashing out at Daniel for trying to bring him back to reality, beautifully. Mayer makes quite the impact as the medium and spouts off the supernatural elements very believably.
While playing himself, and only for fifteen minutes tops, Van Dien is game to shed light on the low budget world he works in so often. Packard, as the put-upon but enthusiastic director, is fun. Washington is excellent as the make-up artist, bringing a lot of heart to the role.
“…finds a clever workaround to one of the most significant problems in the found footage genre.”
Darkness Reigns is also well directed, looking quite slick and moving at a very swift pace. Director of photography Warren Yeager’s use of lighting, especially during a sequence involving a spooky bar, is stellar and adds a genuine creep factor. The framing device, which explains how the audience is viewing this footage, is interwoven well and doesn’t break the tension.
Not all is positive about Darkness Reigns though. For all the atmosphere, the movie is light on actual scares. Van Dien’s death is a pretty good jump scare, and the bar sequence is unnerving as all get out. Those are the only two scenes that go for broke and get underneath the skin of the viewer. Thanks to the characters and directing, one might be compelled to continue watching, but it is never frightening.
The biggest problem though is the resolution to the movie. The reason the demonic force is stalking this film production is a massive letdown. It is a plot point that the audience has seen used before and to much better effect. There is a way of rewriting that reveal, make better use of the haunted hotel, and still keep the very last scene as is, without sacrificing character or pace. As is, it makes sense, but the whole seventy-minute buildup ends with the viewer asking ‘is that it?’
Darkness Reigns is not that scary, and the reason everything is put into motion is not very interesting. However, the directing and cinematography get a lot of mileage out of the location, and the actors all do a credible job.
Darkness Reigns (2018) Written and directed by Andrew P. Jones. Starring Casper Van Dien, Jennifer Wenger, Zachary Mooren, Linara Washington, Peter Mayer, Ford Fanter.
6.5 Gummi Bears (out of 10)