Danika Movie Review
Written by Rosie Fletcher
DVD released by First Look Studios
Directed by Ariel Vromen
Written by Joshua Leibner
2006, Region 1 (NTSC), 80 minutes, Rated R
Marisa Tomei as Danika
Regina Hall as Evelyn
Nicki Prian as Lauren
Ridge Canipe as Brian
Craig Bierko as Randy
Kyle Gallner as Kurt
Danay Garcia as Myra
Danika Merrick (Marisa Tomei) is a bank clerk, living with her husband and three kids. Trying to protect her children, maintain a good relationship with her husband as well as hold down a job she’s under-performing in is proving a bit much. She’s seeing things — paranoid visions of her worst fears, and these visions look like they’re starting to come true.
At first glace this is a psychological thriller using a similar concept to a number of TV dramas as well as the upcoming Sarah Michelle Gellar movie The Return; the story of a woman seeing some nasty visions, which may or may not turn out to be premonitions. Not a new concept, not a very interesting concept and not something I was terribly interested in. Fortunately, I was wrong and Danika is far better than that.
One of the real pleasures of watching Danika was the well-timed and gradual revelations. To call them twists is to undermine them. You’re offered clues rather than thrown answers. It was an enjoyable experience to see things I’d been ready to criticize in the first half of the film beginning to make sense by the start of the second half. The material and pacing are handled well, although some might find the film rather slow overall, especially if they’ve come expecting something with a stronger focus on the “Thriller” rather than on the “Psychological”.
It’s not a gory or especially violent film, although there’s one excellent scare — a completely unexpected and very well executed moment out of the blue which really made me jump. Instead it prefers to establish increasing tension and disorientation through hints and suggestions of something nasty going on in the background.
And there really is something very nasty going on in the background — namely modern life. Themes of paranoia and the experience of motherhood in the 21st century are a strong focus of the film. With the backdrop of paedophilia, terrorism, HIV and Aids, drug and alcohol abuse as well as sexual promiscuity at increasingly young ages, this is a highly relevant topic. There’s sufficient ambiguity, partly stemming from Tomei’s careful performance and partly from the well written script, to allow this film to be discursive and interesting rather than scaremongering or sensational. Danika is the kind of film that leaves you a lot to think about. It’s psychologically interesting and it’s tackled intelligently, with enough tension and surprises to keep you engaged.
I enjoyed it a lot, until I saw the ending.
Danika commits cinematic treason. It’s a film that gives you something fascinating, well acted, poignant, current and relevant, and then whips it out from under you at the last minute. Danika would have been a solid four star recommendation but instead it has to be demoted to a distinctly average three.
See below for further discussion and spoilers on this point.
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Personally, I was taught as a small child that “she woke up and it was all a dream”, along with “and they all died” would not be accepted as sufficient endings to a story; when I tried to get away with this, I was told to go away and write a proper ending. Danika is not alone in using this device, but Danika is guiltier than some, first because it’s actually very good up to the last ten minutes and second because there was no need for it to end that way. The first twist was enough — there were plenty of other ways this could have gone. I shake my head sadly at the writer for spoiling something otherwise excellent.
Screener copy reviewed so video, audio and special features will not be graded.