By Elias Savada | December 31, 2004

“Darkness,” a two-year old Spanish-made, English-language fright flick (it was unleashed throughout Europe during most of 2003, after a Spanish premiere in early October 2002), and although it has yet to jump the Northern border to Canada, it will make it there in 2005 with a limp and a laugh. It was released in the United States by Dimension Pictures, Miramax’s low-budget division, on Christmas Day (Saturday) without screenings for the press, but with a television campaign that helped bring in just over $6-million gross for the 2-day holiday weekend. I caught an opening day afternoon screening at the Loews Cineplex Rio, a megaplex in Gaithersburg, Maryland (my wife and daughter opted for ‘Meet the Fockers,” a decidedly better choice). Surprisingly, the theater was nearly full, no doubt of unfortunate souls who, like myself, plunked down $6.50 for a second-rate effort from Barcelona-raised director Juame Balagueró, a former horror fanzine editor, who co-wrote the script with Fernando de Felipe. I suspect few in the crowd really cared about the project history, suckered in by the distributor’s play-up-the-supernatural-angle marketing blitz. Balagueró had developed a horror film reputation with his debut feature “Los Sin nombre (The Nameless),” which went unreleased here in the U.S. Whatever cult status Balagueró had, dissipated by the time the end credits rolled in this, his second feature.

Derivative of “The Shining,” “The Amityville Horror,” “Poltergeist,” and a handful of other (better) psychological haunted house tales, there are scarcely any edgy moments to make your heart skip its proverbial beat. Perhaps those morbid morsels were chopped out prior to American release. Although the press materials and most reviews give a length at 101 or 102 minutes, the film that I saw ran under 90 minutes. The 4:30 showing began with the usual array of infotainment and five trailers (including “Sin City” from Dimension—now that looks like one helluva film), so the actual film didn’t start until 10 minutes later. I walked out of the theater as the end credits were half finished and my watch said 6:06. The management had 117-minutes on their schedule as the full show length; they wondered about that, too. You do the math. Something was missing, unless I exited before the 20 minutes of post-credit blooper scenes started.

Anna Paquin, most recently in “X-Men” and its sequel, probably was on holiday when she took this role. She’s been way better (“The Piano” and “Fly Away Home” are extremely re-watchable), but here she seems but a flickering shadow as Regina, who with her younger brother Paul (Stephen Enquist) has relocated to a semi-remote home in Spain with her parents Maria (Lena Olin) and Mark (Iain Glen), not too far from Mark’s father Albert Rua (Giancarlo Giannini). For a movie set in the Spanish countryside, not a soul seems to speak the language. Apparently relocated for job reasons, Mark doesn’t seem to go to work very often. And whatever school Regina attends, all the classes apparently take place in a swimming pool. Anyway, the family shares this haunted house and there’s some weird eclipse due in five days. There is a cadre of ghostly children traipsing about the home, playing with the electricity and the plumbing and poor little Paul. Occasionally they like playing old 78s on a run-down Victrola. You know there’s coming when a bass rumble moans on the soundtrack. Dad’s got his own 40-year-old history (the last time this eclipse heralded into these whereabouts a radio newscast conveniently mentions) and has fits and seizures that somehow relate to the spooky goings-on. Mom is incredibly stupid for not believing her frightened daughter’s warnings that “It’s starting again.” Instead Regina teams up with older student Carlos (Fele Martinez) and some grizzly mysterious codger named Villalobos (Fermi Reixach) to figure out that whatever is amiss is coming to a vicious boil. At this point, I couldn’t care less where the film was going, nor could I spoil the ending for you even if I wanted to. Well, I could, but I won’t. It’s so dull. But please put your money back in your wallet and wait for this travesty to pop up on free television. It’s just a murky, dark mess where no one wins. Especially those of us watching it. Simply put: “Darkness” fails. It’s about as chilling as an unplugged refrigerator.

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