Anyone who has sat through more than one episode of Zak Bagans’ Ghost Adventures (or any similar televised ghost hunting show) knows the look and feel of the slow walk through the allegedly haunted location at night with only the viewfinder of an infrared camera to light the way. There are a few paces down a sinister hallway or up a creepy stairwell soon followed by an “OH MY GOD!” or “What was that?” On Bagans’ shows, in particular, the entity is often demonic and typically attempts to possess at least one individual among the crew. If the viewer is lucky, the episode might even include a psychic, a medium, or a holy person who can communicate with or exorcise the demon.
Darkness Reigns, a soon-to-be-released horror film from writer/director Andrew P. Jones, attempts to take that Ghost Adventures formula into the found footage horror movie realm. Daniel (Zachary Mooren; Aquarius, Criminal Minds) is a documentary filmmaker who is behind-the-scenes on the set of a new horror movie starring Casper Van Dien (Starship Troopers, Sleepy Hollow). Daniel’s task is to document the making of the film, which happens to be set in an allegedly truly haunted locale.
As the pieces of the shoot come together, the demonic entity that inhabits the set starts to make itself known, first appearing only as glimpses of figures in the shadowy corners of Daniel’s shots; then, ultimately, by consuming lives and souls of the production crew. Daniel is joined by occultist and medium Sidney (Peter Mayer; Exorcist House of Evil, Sleep with Me), a consultant on the production crew, who seems to act as both Daniel’s foil and his mentor as he and surviving crew member Vanessa (Linara Washington; Grey’s Anatomy, Killing Them Softly) attempt to escape the location.
As a story about a man’s attempt to survive a haunted movie set, Darkness Reigns works. The actors deliver, even through occasionally stilted dialogue. The set is wonderful. The cinematography is excellent. However, there are a few problems with Darkness Reigns that deny it a repeat viewing from me.
Of the characters, Sidney’s dialogue most often comes across as stilted. Whenever Sidney was on-screen, I felt as if I was watching a Stan Lee cameo in a Marvel movie, which was distracting. It is not Mayer’s acting, but perhaps a lack of familiarity on both the writer’s part and Mayer’s part with the character they were attempting to create and the world he is supposed to inhabit. There’s one scene in particular in which Sidney laughs at what I assume is Daniel’s naïveté about demonic entities. The laughter goes on much too long. The camera lingers on Sidney as he laughs, making it difficult to believe that he was feeling what he was attempting to portray. As I watched this, I could only conclude that Sidney was not the expert in his field that he is supposed to be because he, too, did not seem to understand why he was laughing.
There’s also a major story issue in Darkness Reigns. From the beginning, as Daniel is presenting his new documentary to a theatrical audience, we know how the story ends. Therefore, we know from the start who is in danger of not surviving the ordeal and who is safe. Don’t get me wrong; Darkness Reigns is not boring. However, the prologue reveals too much, causing me to care less about the characters I met along the way. The tension might be better maintained throughout the screening if the audience is not given the conclusion up front. Often, a horror film introduces an extra twist at the end of the story as a bandage for this particular issue. Such is not the case with Darkness Reigns, which is just as well because such bandages unravel rather easily.
Overall, Darkness Reigns is worth a viewing for its horror makeup and effects, as well as the skills of its cast. However, there’s not enough tension and mystery to stand up to repeat viewings.