Darkness Reigns Movie Review
Written by Stuart D. Monroe
Released by Wild Eye Releasing
Directed by Andrew P. Jones
2018, 88 minutes, Not Rated
Released on July 10th, 2018
Zahcary Mooren as Daniel
Linara Washington as Vanessa
Casper Van Dien as Casper Van Dien
Peter Mayer as Sidney
Ford Fanter as Aaron
Jennifer Wenger as Rebecca Long
James Pakcard as Jacob Bale
Ah, found footage…it’s right up there with remakes in vying for the top spot of “Most Divisive Topic” in the horror community. What was popularized by The Blair Witch Project in 1999 has become a staple of lower budget horror for good reason nearly two decades later. It brings inherent scare value and visual uneasiness to the viewer with a fair amount of creative freedom for the filmmaker. As visual effects have progressed, we’ve seen some real gems from the subgenre, and I’m pleased to say that Darkness Reigns falls into that category.
The premise is a meta-twist on the standard found footage trope. Daniel (Zachary Mooren, Ten Days in the Valley) and Aaron (Ford Fanter) are documentary filmmakers shooting the ubiquitous “behind the scenes footage” for the eventual DVD release of “Defanatus Soul” (the film’s original title), a horror movie filmed inside of a closed down, haunted hotel. The movie’s star is none other than the legendary and ageless Casper Van Dien (Starship Troopers, Sleepy Hollow). Unfortunately for Casper and the rest of the crew, a nasty demon is crashing the set and cashing in the deal he made with a crew member with a lust for fame and fortune.
Casper Van Dien takes a very limited role and (as usual) milks it for all it’s worth. He takes his second only to Bruce Campbell chin and baby-blue eyes to over-the-top territory as the movie’s big “name”. He’s a bit of a prima donna, but he manages to make you realize he deserves it. I imagine that writer/director Andrew P. Jones (Haunting of Cellblock 11 and Emmy-nominated editor of TV’s Naked and Afraid) probably needed a sheer joy changing of his boxers after he got an up close and personal look at just what Van Dien can do with the camera on him. The man is a cult icon for a reason.
Speaking of Andrew P. Jones, the results of his acumen as a writer/editor/producer/director shine through every frame of Darkness Reigns. This is a damn good-looking movie by any standard, but especially for a found footage horror film (an all too often shoddy-looking style). His eye is fresh and (aside from one glaring plot hole) the writing is excellent.
Sidney (Peter Mayer, Haunting of Cellblock 11) is the classic character that you need in a solid horror flick – the beautifully overplayed medium who’s there to serve as equal parts laughable schlock and exposition device. He brings the whole thing home and carries many of his scenes.
Fancy hotels are a naturally creepy setting, and they found a good one here. You believe instantly that the place is no good. The shit hits the fan refreshingly early on, and it doesn’t let up on you unless it is to draw your eye to a certain place and drag out the tension. The intestinal scene (I’ll leave it at that to avoid further spoilage) is a high point that had this lifelong horror fan grinning from ear to ear. Bravo! There is fun galore to be had in the background of many shots. No trope (I say that in the nicest way possible, by the way) is left unused in the visuals – reflection tricks, night vision, facial distortion, total darkness freak-outs, et cetera. The auditory tricks are plentiful, too. There’s a lot to chew on in Darkness Reigns.
That pun is intended.
That plot hole I mentioned earlier? You won’t really think about it until the credits are rolling and the logical part of your brain kicks back in. I hate it when the left side of my brain says, “But how could he do this?”, thus forcing the suspension of disbelief momentarily away. It would have been very hard for this footage to come to light in the rather Hollywood fashion that it does without a lot of questions and police problems. Damn you, logic and common sense!
Still, it’s a minor flaw in a lovingly demonic achievement by an up-and-coming filmmaker. Who gives a rat’s ass about a little plot hole when you’ve got demonic terror, mass vomiting, intestinal play, and faceless menace in a killer setting?
Not this guy.