Producers: Giles Daoust, Luke Barnett, Vincent Masciale and Mike Marari   Director: Julien Seri   Screenplay: Giles Daoust   Cast: Shawn Ashmore, Gary Cole, Daniella Alonso, Richard Harmon, Judah Mackey, Sonya Walger, Vahina Giocante and Lin Shaye   Distributor: Vertical Entertainment

Grade:  D+

Giles Daoust’s screenplay for Julien Seri’s would-be thriller goes for something utterly formulaic, and fails to nail the simplest of recipes.  “Darkness Falls” is like a bad episode of “Criminal Minds,” structured as though it were “Columbo.”

The hero is a Los Angeles police detective named Jeff Anderson (Shawn Ashmore).  He has a beautiful wife named Elizabeth (Vahina Giocante) and a cute-as-a-button son named Frankie (Judah Mackey).  But his domestic bliss is shattered when Elizabeth is murdered.

Not that her death is listed as a homicide.  Jeff finds her in the bathtub with her wrists slit, and so it’s ruled a suicide.  Jeff, however. instinctively knows it was murder, and he’s right.  This is no spoiler, since we’re shown the crime being committed at the start by two men, the older one, Mark Witver (Gary Cole) the leader and his son Adam (Richard Harmon) his obedient helper.

Later in the picture, Mark takes the opportunity to explain why he became a serial killer and enlisted his boy in the business.  As a child he had daddy issues, and then he had a bad marriage.  Naturally he offed his wife, and he and Adam have bonded by making their murders of other women look like suicides ever since.  Makes sense, doesn’t it?

In any event, Jeff sends Frankie off to live with his grandmother (Lin Shaye), devoting himself to proving that Elizabeth was murdered and finding the culprit.  His method has two tracks.  One is to slog through old suicide cases to find whether there have been others, like his wife’s, that need a second look.  The other is that hokey old writer’s standby—to think like the killer. 

Jeff’s obsession irritates his boss (and erstwhile partner) Kelly (Daniella Alonso), who berates him for spending all his time on a closed case rather than seeing to his current ones.  But he’s proven right when the killers strike again but their victim (Sonya Walger) survives. 

Jeff now analyzes where the duo might strike again, stakes out the home of a likely target, and intervenes when they show up.  In the ensuing melee Mark is captured but Adam escapes.  But the evil fellow has a contingency plan: Adam kidnaps Frankie and threatens to have the boy killed if he’s not released.  Naturally Jeff can’t let his son die. 

Thus far “Darkness Falls” has been silly in a pedestrian way; now it turns ludicrous and pretentious, setting up a confrontation between Jeff and the killers in which he’ll have to decide how far he’ll go to avenge his wife and save his son.  There’s a whiff of “Se7en” in the air at the oil-drilling site where the action plays out, but none of that film’s tension.  Despite Ashmore’s frantic performance, the movie is a drab and lifeless pseudo-thriller.

One has to feel sorry for veterans like Cole and Shaye, but both give the material their all.  He goes the florid route, smugly oozing malevolence as he spouts the absurdly ripe lines Daoust has provided.  She plays concerned and nothing more.  Alonso is wasted in more ways than one, and Harmon acts up a storm to little effect.  Mackey is cute and—of course—precociously wise for his years. 

On the technical level there’s little of note here.  Cinematographer Shan Liljestrand manages to give the images a grittily authentic look, but despite a short running-time Seri’s prosaic direction and Brody Gusar’s editing make the movie a drag. Sacha Chaban’s score seems to consist of a single brooding motif endlessly repeated. 

The closing credits give two titles for the movie –“Anderson Falls” and “Darkness Falls.”  It’s not worth checking out under either of them.