Tag Archives: D

DARKNESS FALLS

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.       

THE DINNER PARTY

Producers: James V. Bulian, Miles Doleac, Lindsay Anne Williams and Wesley O’Mary  Director: Miles Doleac   Screenplay: Michael Donovan Horn and Miles Doleac   Cast: Bill Sage, Miles Doleac, Alli Hart, Lindsay Anne Williams, Sawandi Wilson, Mike Mayhall, Kamille McCuin, Sherri Eakin, Rachel Ryals, Jeremy London, Ritchie Montgomery, Joseph VanZandt and Judyth Daley   Distributor: Uncork’d Entertainment

Grade: D

Unsuspecting jerks are lured to a final, fatal meal in Miles Doleac’s dreary hodgepodge of horror-movie clichés, played at a ponderous pace that accentuates the overripe dialogue and ludicrously theatrical performances.  “The Dinner Party” is both unpalatable and indigestible.

As the picture opens, Jeff and Haley (Mike Mayhall and Alli Hart) arrive at a mansion, wine I n hand, for the titular bash.  He’s a playwright who hopes to get funding for his work from the wealthy hosts.

They’re met at the door by Sebastian (Sawandi Wilson), a menacingly mincing type who invites them in only after a scare that he insists was a joke.  Then he deposits them alone in a room; only later will they meet their host Carmine (Bill Sage), a doctor who specializes in preparing exotic dishes for the menu.

Among the other guests for the affair are Vincent (Doleac), a snobbish type with a snooty accent; Agatha (Kamille McCuin), a sultry writer; and Sadie (Lindsay Anne Williams), who has a yen for the supernatural and will do a Tarot card reading for the group. 

The evening degenerates as quickly as the movie itself.  There’s lots of stilted, showy, pseudo-sophisticated dialogue, much of it about opera (a long disquisition on the plot of “Tosca,” for example), and a heart-on-sleeve revelation by Haley about her childhood (unhappy, of course, as we see in some gauzily artsy flashbacks in which Jeremy London—barely glimpsed, the actor will be happy to know—plays her stepfather), which embarrasses Jeff to no end. 

But all the falderal is just tiresome prologue to the meat of this “Dinner,” which involves such ingredients as Satanic rituals, human sacrifice and cannibalism.  You might remember that one of the games in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” was “Get the Guests.”  That’s being played here, too, but a bit more literally.  And drenched over the whole thing is the sauce of class conflict, as the affluent conspire to use those less well-off to their own advantage—a theme that often appears in horror flicks, from Brian Yuzna’s “Society” to such recent entries as “The Purge” and “The Hunt.”

Not to worry, however, there is an obligatory last girl standing, though to remain upright she will have to slice and dice her way through most of the party-givers.  There are a couple of twists toward the close—one involving an outsider and another one of the party guests who is not quite what she seems—but even the sequences of mayhem and slaughter have a tepid feel to them. 

Under Doleac’s ponderous direction—the leaden pacing probably dictated by his love of the overripe dialogue he’s written—the cast overdoes things mercilessly; no need to single any one of them out for special opprobrium, though Doleac would be wise to avoid being in his own films in the future.  The technical credits in the Mississippi-shot picture are okay: cinematographer Michael Williams captures every garish detail of Julie Toche’s production design and Lindsay Anne Williams’ costumes.  One wishes, though, that editor Keith J. Hollingsworth had been more active with the scissors, though Doleac bears most of the blame for the turgid pacing.

Cross “The Dinner Party” off your menu.