Studio: Indie Rights
Director: Darren Flaxstone
Writer: Darren Flaxstone, Bernie Hodges
Producer: Chris Broughton, Darren Flaxstone, Bernie Hodges
Stars: Bernie Hodges, Suzie Latham, Judith Haley, Alicia Ancel, Oliver Park, Simon Pearce
A paranormal reality TV show investigates a reportedly haunted building that once housed a 15th century plague hospital.
To become a full-fledged series sponsored by mysterious Internet cabal “Dark Vision Hub,” five paranormal-themed reality TV shows vie to attract the most viewers with their investigations into supernatural activity. “Dark Vision,” the movie, focuses on one of these prospective programs: “Mind-Full,” hosted by charlatan hypnotist Spencer Knights.
Spencer assembles an intrepid cast/crew consisting of a rookie cameraman, a journeywoman producer, and a C-list celebrity. Together, they head to Baylock’s Folly, the site of a 15th century hospital whose resident doctor went mad from bubonic plague before slaughtering his patients in the underground tunnels. Spencer’s exaggerated tale about Baylock’s ghost and his supposedly haunted building turns out to be hogwash. Funnily enough, the true story behind what happened to Baylock is far more demonic in nature. Instead of having to fake bumps in the night and taps on the walls, Spencer and company find a real nightmare waiting for them in the catacombs beneath Baylock’s Folly.
That summary alone can probably dissuade more than a few viewers from even giving “Dark Vision” a go. And understandably so. After all, mustering enthusiasm for a premise involving yet another paranormal investigation of a creepy building is a hard sell to even the least burned-out horror fan, even though “Dark Vision” offers more inspired entertainment than similar “found footage” yarns.
“Dark Vision” actually alternates between first-person and traditional camera coverage while blending the two together without concern for the conceit. Here, the reality TV show frame is merely a stylistic choice, and not a justified part of the fiction to get bent out of shape over when an angle comes from a camera that couldn’t possibly be there. The movie is purposefully unconcerned about being purely “found footage,” which means the audience should not be bothered about the back-and-forth either.
The film’s greatest strength is an obvious sense of humor that doesn’t feel the need to virtually elbow the viewer and wiggle eyebrows after each punchline. Nothing is played as strictly comedic, but playful performances provide an enthusiastic edge that takes the material seriously while retaining a light touch. Having seen so many films stiffly follow an identical idea to the point where the end result is fully redundant, this measured mix of humor and haunting makes “Dark Vision” a more palatable viewing experience.
Elements working in the movie’s favor start working against it as the story wears on, however. Genuine character development initially provides everyone with personal quirks and a complementary backstory. Characters like egotistical Spencer and mysterious caretaker Clem have stereotyped veneers, but the acting gives everyone a likable spark of personality to stave off potential flatness. Yet for all the hurdles hopped to establish everyone’s relationships with one another, the script leaves them flapping in the wind when the terror tale turns into an extended chase sequence where little of anyone’s individuality really matters.
The brick folly and cobwebbed tunnels offer a mild respite from the typical green tiles of a dilapidated mental hospital or nondescript forest that usually features in “found footage” films. Though even with a runtime kept under 90 minutes, looking at the same Earth-toned walls stops feeling claustrophobic and starts soliciting yawns after the umpteenth shot of the same crumbling stone.
About two-thirds of the way into “Dark Vision,” the screenplay skids into a heavy exposition dump that seemingly contains almost as much dialogue as the rest of the movie combined. The story stalls as a result and the interest spawned by a promising setup wanes while waiting for the rhythm to recover. With the home stretch striding into traditional territory, “Dark Vision” trades too much of its unique charm for a predictably plotted final act.
Perhaps not so curiously, since so much of “Dark Vision” cuts as a double-edged sword, the same things making the film admirable as an honest effort from fledgling filmmakers also constitute drawbacks for those less willing to compromise standards for the project’s small scope and smaller budget. For every imposing visage of a beak-masked phantom in black robes, there is a not-so-hot digital matte or unconvincing floating light to immediately separate the setting. There is little question that everyone involved is giving it their all. But it is difficult to remain willingly immersed in the environment when the crew undoes their own illusion by including a Wilhelm Scream or a ghost roar that sounds like Battle-Cat from “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.”
Those most prone to disliking “Dark Vision” shouldn’t be watching it in the first place. You can either tolerate one more semi-“found footage” thriller about ghost hunters in a haunted building or you can’t. And there have certainly been enough of them that such an aversion is perfectly reasonable. “Dark Vision” is definitely not going to persuade anybody already turned off by the premise to come back to the subgenre. But for those with more lenient tastes towards micro-budget indies, “Dark Vision” has enough pure intentions at heart that it can still play as an earnest homage to Gothic British horror.
Review Score: 60