Studio: Wild Eye Releasing
Director: Andrew P. Jones
Writer: Andrew P. Jones
Producer: Andrew P. Jones, Linara Washington, Mark Reichard, Mike Strain, Adam Boster
Stars: Zachary Mooren, Peter Mayer, Ford Fanter, Jennifer Wenger, Linara Washington, Casper Van Dien
A horror movie crew encounters an evil demon while filming in a haunted Missouri hotel.
I wasn’t sure I should believe IMDb’s date of 2017 for “Darkness Reigns” when I couldn’t find corroboration for a limited release prior to its 2018 distribution. Then the opening scene featured a filmmaker musing about Harvey Weinstein being one of three bigwigs burning to buy his buzzing documentary. So yeah, “Darkness Reigns” definitely dates to earlier than the #MeToo movement.
“Darkness Reigns” is about a horror movie crew who runs afoul of a malevolent supernatural force while filming inside an abandoned asylum that is reportedly haunted. Whoops, my bad. That’s the plot of The Rasmussen Brothers’ 2013 thriller “Dark Feed” (review here). “Darkness Reigns” is actually about a horror movie crew who runs afoul of a malevolent supernatural force while filming inside an abandoned hotel that is reportedly haunted. Sorry. You can see how someone might get these two interchangeably irrelevant movies confused, provided they’re remembered at all.
“Darkness Reigns” opens with faux filmmaker Daniel Whitaker en route to the highly anticipated premiere of his same-named documentary. As a cameraman, Daniel was capturing behind-the-scenes footage on the set of “Defanatus Soul” when all Hell literally broke loose. After Daniel introduces his doc to an eager audience, “Darkness Reigns” plays out as “found footage” chronicling what happened during the ill-fated production.
Despite being done before, that’s not a terrible kernel to heat into a simple horror movie. Trouble is, “Darkness Reigns” forgets to oil its setup with an actual story, leaving an unpopped dud to rattle around an empty bag.
The runtime barely scrapes 70 minutes. Even at that short length, it’s an arduous hour and ten thanks to padded interview segments bogging down the first half and a lot of slowly searching empty corridors for an unlocked door in the second.
Due to its empty pockets and absentee personality, “Darkness Reigns” never stands a chance of finding a remotely realistic tone. To start with, the premise’s presentation is ludicrously laughable. Dozens of people including a recognizable celebrity died during this film shoot, yet the BTS footage of their horrible deaths receives a red carpet rollout like it’s a “Star Wars” sequel. Skeptics still believe the whole affair was faked too, even though a massacre of this magnitude would have made major international waves.
Never mind the overall idea making little logical sense. “Darkness Reigns” can’t even sell minor moments with believability. In one scene, after incredible paranormal activity has already rocked the building, remaining survivors walk without any urgency whatsoever into a barroom painfully flailing to resemble “The Shining.” It’s quite clear everyone is encountering ghosts, yet despite every horrible happening witnessed up through that point, they calmly ask if one of the apparitions can call for help with all the inflection one would use when asking to borrow bread from a neighbor.
There’s suspension of disbelief and then there’s asking an audience to throw their brains entirely out the window. “Darkness Reigns” throws its pennies down on the latter.
Zachary Mooren, who plays Daniel, does the best job of coming close to creating an almost authentic character. Unfortunately, Daniel slumps shoulders so deep in woeful misery, he ends up adding to the overwhelming vacuum sucking every ounce of energy from the film.
Of the other actors, it’s easy to see most of them are merely choking out rehearsed lines nervously. Peter Mayer plays a medium who has a stereotypical look for a cinema psychic, but at least has a fitting dulcet voice. Mayer’s real issue is he lays his theatricality on so thick when he speaks into the lens, he comes off like the cheesy host of an old choose-your-own-adventure VCR board game.
“Starship Troopers” star Casper Van Dien plays himself, or a variation of himself, in the movie. Van Dien’s presence provides a golden opportunity for winks of meta humor that “Darkness Reigns” kind of hits, although the degree to which it is deliberate remains unclear. For instance, in talking about casting his lead, “Dafanatus Soul’s” director says, “Slater wanted too much money. All the Baldwins were busy. Couldn’t even get Liotta to read the thing. But Casper Van Dien has always been our first choice.” That’s a good subtle gag, but the actor delivers his dialogue so drily, it reads as sincere instead of sarcastic. It’s a tossup how director Andrew P. Jones intended the line to play.
A smidge of self-aware jokiness exists in Van Dien’s persona, but not enough to sizzle as a fun caricature. That kind of plainness is indicative of the film’s greatest problem. “Darkness Reigns” doesn’t have the gusto for its goofiness to be entertaining. I almost wish it were worse because then the movie might be ironically enjoyable as a “so bad it’s good” curiosity.
A mild whiff of weirdness might make the movie morbidly intriguing to some as a micro-indie oddity. I mean, I’ll award bonus points for the absurdity of strangling someone to death with a film crew lanyard. I simply don’t know whether to laugh or wince at the disemboweled corpse whose blood looks like Chef Boyardee’s orange marinara. Really though, instead of delirious or demented, “Darkness Reigns” is mostly just dull.
Review Score: 30