Austin (Dave Coyne) and his crew of wannabe ghost hunting superstars picks the severely haunted Hewitt house to make their pilot episode. Loaded up with tricks to make the place appear haunted (because who actually believes they’ll see a ghost?), Austin, “occult specialist” (and Austin’s girlfriend) Lucy (Erin Cline), “technology expert” Jesse (Tonya Kay) and Austin’s skeptical, camera-operating cousin Bruce (John C. Bailey) set out to make their ghost hunting name with the help of a strange medium named Megan (Shanna Forrestall).
And the group certainly makes their mark in the realm of ghost hunting reality television, just not remotely how they might have imagined, as events spiral out of control within the house. When it’s not supernatural, it’s drama of a more normal variety, as Jesse has issues with Lucy, Lucy has a secret she’s keeping from Austin and Austin… is all about Austin.
Jonathan Zuck’s Within the Darkness is something of a dramedy set up as a haunted house horror film. There are scares here and there, and there are certainly laughs to be found, but also some real personal drama unfolding throughout. The mix is both a strength and weakness for the film.
Strength, because it allows the film to be more than a simple tale in any one direction. It makes the supernatural elements feel more real, because fear and funny go hand-in-hand quite often. At the same time, the dramatic elements show that maybe a ghost here or there isn’t going to be the roughest thing anyone deals with in the next few days.
Weakness, because it sets itself up as a horror film, and then as it becomes something else, undermines those horror elements as you spend less time working with them than perhaps a fan of the genre would like, or expect. It’s not a major weakness, however, as it’s just a risk of the choice the filmmakers make, a choice that is truly committed to by the end. There’s the slight chance that it’s a case of the film being a “jack of all trades, master of none” as pertains to the genre mixing, but that will come down to individual interpretation and appreciation.
As far as the humor is concerned, the filmmakers show a true respect for horror film, and ghost hunting TV show, devices and ideas, but in a fun way. For example, when Lucy’s research in a graveyard early in the film is interrupted by random twin girls, we know what the film is referencing for a quick shock-and-laugh. It’s not ridiculing The Shining so much as playing off the feelings such imagery might create in our heads.
On the horror side, there’s a few good scares to be found, and there are tense moments of danger and blood. Nothing gets too gory or brutal, however, so no worries if you’re wondering if someone’s face is going to get ripped off. There’s violence, but nothing like that. Mostly it’s a case of watching fraudulent reality TV wannabes find themselves out of their element in a scenario they’re increasingly losing control over.
For me, Within the Darkness worked all around, and I particularly enjoyed the clever narrative development at the end of the film. Just when I thought the film was actually undoing all the good will it had built up over the course of its running time, it took a turn that I didn’t remotely see coming, and made me appreciate it even more. All in all, a fun film that challenges genre classification, so let’s call it a “haunted horror dramedy” and let that puzzle folks until the film speaks for itself.
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