Studio: Phase 4 Films
Director: Britt Napier
Writer: Michaelbrent Collings
Producer: Michael A. Liberty, Ron Stein, Britt Napier
Stars: Kaylee DeFer, Elisabeth Rohm, Christian Campbell, Tobias Segal
A new job for a woman rehabilitating from a fatal car wreck leads her into the lair of a sadistic trio of demented siblings.
Michelle has a chip on her shoulder since killing three of her friends by taking the wheel while drunk. Pouting with crossed arms, Michelle huffs and sighs while going through the motions and jumping through her therapist Rachel’s hoops at a rehabilitation center. And why should she make an effort at showing remorse? The accident was not her fault, after all. If her loudmouth boyfriend hadn’t been acting like such a pill, she never would have been distracted. That is how Michelle sees it anyway.
Needless to say from that description, Michelle is a tough nut to have any sympathy for. “Darkroom” starts behind the eight ball with an arrogant protagonist who thinks she is above redemption. Unwilling to accept her own culpability for a fatal car wreck, her perpetually sour attitude is in need of adjusting. So when Rachel recommends Michelle for a modeling gig that leads to imprisonment in a homegrown torture dungeon, Michelle might be getting what she deserves. What the audience deserves is a story and a presentation with more sense than what “Darkroom” has to offer.
On the production design front, “Darkroom” has the torture horror sub-genre down pat. Peeling paint, cold brick, and industrial filth create a subterranean lair that would bring a tear to Jigsaw’s eye. The lighting and camera work is just as spot on for a “Saw” wannabe. “Darkroom” tries breaking free from that clone accusation as much as possible, but the plot is not as clever as it thinks it is to make that distinction.
The story unfolds across two timelines, lending an air that this will be a suspense thriller with style. Flashbacks fill in details about the night that landed Michelle in rehab and show her slow-to-adapt progress at the halfway house. Director Britt Napier stumbles a bit at first to fully grasp the concurrent narrative technique. Early on, it is not immediately clear that the parallel stories are intended to be ongoing. Until this notion sets in, some time jumps take a moment to register, like when Michelle first arrives for her modeling job and is suddenly seen next mopping a floor. That has less to do with audience misperception and more to do with mistimed editing.
Leaping to and fro with past and present brings to mind the sense of “Darkroom” having deeper secrets to reveal regarding how its varied elements intersect. Why has Michelle been targeted? Who holds her prisoner? How are her connections at the halfway house involved? Why are the details of her accident important?
Initial hours of Michelle’s captivity are occupied by these expected struggles of maddeningly searching for answers as to who and why. With so much time devoted to Michelle’s backstory and to the depiction of her apathy towards vehicular manslaughter, the impression is that the mystery surrounding her kidnapping must be related. It is not. As a matter of fact, Michelle’s inebriated transgression is a mostly arbitrary detail. “Darkroom” is torture horror without the hullaballoo of interesting motivations for its perpetrators or its victims.
Running just a meager 70 minutes without including credits, the movie delivers some of the weird sensations that come with watching a blood-caked woman choose her own method of mangling by either a power drill or a box cutter. But the pain inflicted on Michelle turns to pain inflicted on the viewer when “Darkroom” is content in amounting to no more than an average revenge thriller.
Everything in the first act that asks for attention ends up not mattering in a storyline that only leads to routine suspense fare any number of films have already done better. “Darkroom” has a promising setup that degrades into disappointment with an “oh come on” implausibility. The back half of the screenplay needed to keep rolling with initial ideas about having something meaningful to say and a creative way to say it. Instead, “Darkroom” settles for a level of mediocrity that dooms it to be an unfortunate piece of flotsam floating in an already crowded sea.
Review Score: 40