Darkness was purchased for distribution in 2002 as what appears to be a tax write-off on the part of Dimension Films. It has yet to see so much as a straight-to-video release in Australia, and appearances suggest that in spite of Anna Paquin's minor stardom, it never will. This is a pity, because Jaume Balagueró's economical approach to making a horror film is something that we need more of in today's box office. Like Tobe Hooper before him, Balagueró gives the viewer short bursts of scenery for the imagination to use as a foundation. Everything that scares the viewer in this film is the product of their imagination, which might go some way to explain the poor reception it appears to have had on the IMDb. Trusting in the imagination of your audience is a risk, especially when a large part of that audience has been indoctrinated against using theirs by twenty or more years of eMpTyV. Put simply, the reception Darkness suffered in the US market can be attributed to a clash of cultures.
This is not to say the film is not without flaws. The first half hour in particular comes across as a collection of scenes without transition. This is something that occurs often in British television, where people are shown doing things in different places with nothing to explain how they got there. Those who have seen Lock, Stock, And Two Smoking Barrels or any of the Law & Order series will have some idea of what I am talking about. In comedies, this can help reduce the lag time between laughs. It can also help dramas function effectively in scope. In the case of Darkness, unfortunately, it can leave the viewer in some state of confusion as to what is meant to be happening, or the chronology of events. Subtitles are occasionally flashed across the screen to indicate what day of the week it is, but this leaves the events of the film seeming to not fit.
The acting, on the other hand, is top-notch. I am not ashamed to admit that the entire reason I bought the DVD is because of how prominently Anna Paquin was featured on the cover. The entire film rests on her slender shoulders, and she carries it heroically. Lena Olin and Iain Glen give Anna plenty to bounce off, and they all make it seem as though they thoroughly enjoyed working together. Stephan Enquist is, naturally, the weakest link in the main cast, but he holds up his end of the story with a grace you rarely see in one so young. Granted, the scenes he appears in are more or less specifically tailored to him, but this is only natural. This film is the only credit listed under his name on the IMDb, so it is possible that he never even had any plans to become an actor in the first place. He is more of a plot device than a character, but he fills that role very nicely. Giancarlo Giannini appears to have bounced back nicely from Hannibal, and proves that he can deliver a great performance when the script is right.
Rather than cover up the holes in the story or its execution with a hodge-podge of computerised graphical effects. Darkness, on the other hand, relies upon practical effects in order to deliver what some might call the money shots. Lights flicker on and off in predetermined sequences, subliminal images rocket across the screen to disorient the viewer, and sound is effectively placed or mixed in order to place the viewer in the scene. The only practical effect here I can seriously object to is the manner in which Jaume Balagueró shakes the camera during some of the scenes that are meant to be high-tension. This is the first time I have seen this despicable move during a European film, and Darkness in particular reminds me of how the technique throws me out of the picture. It reminds me that I am watching a film or DVD, not a family acting out a crisis before me. It's a shame that I have to even mention this, because the other effects in the film deliver far more punch.
As I tried to make clear, this film is very much an acquired taste. Fans of Paul Verhoeven's work in the Dutch film industry will have little trouble adjusting to the Spanish stylings of Darkness. Those who are only acquainted with the American film industry will have a little more trouble, in spite of the fact that in terms of content, Darkness differs little from most American fare. It is the little things, such as the casting or the ability to show things that America's attempts to appeal to everyone disallows, that make Darkness stand out. Sure, it is a standard horror formula, but the fact that it has not been attempted in this manner for some time is a bonus. The twist ending is hardly a surprise, but it does add an unusual edge to the proceedings. In spite of some very conventional material, the end result is anything but.
In all, I gave Darkness an eight out of ten. There is plenty that it does wrong, but there is also so much that it does right. While I don't recommend it for a look at foreign film industry, I do recommend it if you need to see that an effective horror film can be made for less than a hundred million dollars.