So, let me ask you this. If you had to pick a location, where would you want to film your horror movie? In a crazy haunted location obviously, am I right? Seriously, what could go wrong? Well, watch Darkness Reigns, due to be released on July 10, 2018, and find out!
On the surface, the film’s premise appears relatively straight forward: a film crew is on the set of their newest indie horror movie (a haunted hotel) and a malevolent force makes itself known. It’s a little more complicated than that, though. Darkness Reigns is a unique take on the “Deal with the Devil” theme and this demon wants a little time in the spotlight.
The clever thing about this film is the framing device. Now, I know that it’s been done in other horror films before. Still, I really liked the approach in Darkness Reigns. Essentially, the main events of the movie are book-ended on either side by a side story which is shot like a normal film.
In the framing story, videographer Daniel is attending the red-carpet premier of his documentary film. There, he explains to the audience that he’s the sole survivor of the events they’re about to witness. We know there’s a reason he survived because earlier in the limo, he mentions a deal he made and the hard work it took to get where he is.
Let me stop right there for a moment and say that while I appreciate this particular revelation as an attempt at foreshadowing, it gave away the ending for me. The minute things started happening, I knew exactly what his “deal” was. Other little details seemed to confirm this. For example, while recording makeup artist Vanessa, Daniel pans the camera to one of the actresses and a second lizard-like white eyelid closes over them. Since Daniel has the same weird eyelid thing going on at the end of the film, I wonder if this is not just a clue to viewers that something’s afoot but that he knows about it. He’s also the only one who can hear its voice.
Aside from this, horror fans will recognize several found footage and traditional horror tropes throughout Darkness Reigns. Vanessa’s repeated question about why Daniel keeps filming and his response about needing to record the events was reminiscent of scenes in George Romero’s Diary of the Dead (2007), for instance. And I’m not sure but I think I may even have seen a nod to Stephen King’s The Shining (1980) in a few places, like the creepy hotel bar scene.
Acting & Characters
Casting in Darkness Reigns was great. It was a pleasant surprise to see Casper Van Dien playing himself as the star of the doomed movie—I really liked him in Starship Troopers. His appearance was short-lived, though, since he’s the first crew member to die.
Zachary Mooren played Daniel. Mooren has appeared on television shows like Criminal Minds and Aquarius and his performance as the ambitious filmmaker was believable, even when the terms of the deal changed on him.
Ford Fanter played Aaron, Daniel’s friend and fellow documentary filmmaker. His character was great up until he fell victim to a trap that seems to happen in every horror film of this kind. Why, oh why, does a character always want to believe a long-dead relative has somehow been magically resurrected if they appear in the midst of paranormal chaos? When a demon is trying to kill you, this is clearly a trap, Aaron!
Linara Washington also gave a strong performance as Vanessa. As one of the few survivors, she provides a bit of pluck that seemed to be lacking otherwise. While Daniel was hell-bent on recording, Aaron with finding a way out, and finally, Sidney with convincing them everything was pointless, Vanessa gave the group balance.
Speaking of Sidney…Peter Mayer did a fine job as the creepy medium with a twist. I do have to say, though, that his character went from being pretty nonchalant about the supernatural goings-on to “it’s all pointless, you know” pretty quick. Still, it was an enjoyable performance.
Darkness Reigns is primarily a found-footage film and shaky camerawork is expected. Still, the lighting was decent in setting the mood and tone of the film. I suppose you could argue that the film was a little too brightly lit to be really scary but as Daniel points out, the demon was showing off for the camera. It wanted to be seen, not hidden, so the lighting choice makes sense.
As far as the soundtrack goes, I had one issue—the overall volume in Darkness Reigns was a bit low. Like most found footage films, there is no score to speak of aside from a few seconds of tense orchestrated music as Daniel exits the limo in the beginning and then at the end as he walked off the stage. Honestly, even if they left it out completely, those particular scenes would still be effective.
In all, Darkness Reigns is a really interesting film. Personally, I like found-footage films so I thought the combination with a more traditional style was nice. There are a lot of well-worn tropes in the movie but, honestly, those are forgivable. For the most part, it’s a unique film that is well worth watching.