Reviews

Darkness: Unrated Version (2004)

Cynthia Fuchs

Ooky ambiguity is one thing. Incoherence is another.


Darkness: Unrated Version

Director: #243;
Cast: Anna Paquin, Lena Olin, Iain Glen, Giancarlo Giannini, Fele Martinez, Stephen Enquist, Fermín Reixach, Craig Stevenson
Studio: Dimension Films
Display Artist: Juame Balagueró
First date: 2002
US DVD Release Date: 2005-04-26
Amazon affiliate
It's frightening, but it's more psychological and more to do with the characters interacting.
-- Anna Paquin, "Darkness Illuminated: Behind the Scenes of Darkness"

Why can't we just talk? There's things I need to tell you.
-- Regina (Anna Paquin), Darkness

Regina (Anna Paquin) is a surly girl. And she's got good reason. Still in high school, she's unhappy that her father, Mark (Iain Glen), is suffering from apparent seizures and that her mother, Maria (Lena Olin), is the queen of denial. She's mad that neither parent seems particularly concerned with looking after her pasty little brother, Paul (Stephan Enquist). And most of all, she's angry that the family has recently moved to the Spanish countryside to live in a haunted house. This just tears it.

The house, you see, has a history. And so does Juame Balagueró's Darkness, now released in an "unrated version" DVD (which means that it offers a few more minutes of... well, darkness, as well as a wholly unenlightening doc called, circularly, "Darkness Illuminated: Behind the Scenes of Darkness"), that is, the film draws from all sorts of previous bad house movies. The film starts with cryptic bits of this history, chants and shadows and children sacrificed. Legend has it that seven children went missing long ago, apparently victims of some dark, witchy-or-culty plot, and their tragedy has dampened the town's mood for the 40 years since.

Not to mention Mark's. As Reggie learns, he was one of the seven children, the only one returned to his family, meaning, his father, Albert (Giancarlo Giannini, whose marked Italianness in this Spanish milieu only exacerbates the family's unaddressed multi-nationalism, what with the Swedish Olin, Scottish Glen, Singapore-born Enquist, and Canadian Paquin: chalk it up to the "global economy"). Mark's distress -- unworked-out as a child, maybe repressed, maybe lost to a spell -- now comes roaring back with a vengeance, as he begins to suffer nasty symptoms, ranging from sweats to sleeplessness to aggression against his own family. Before you can say "Jack Torrance," he's telling his kids, "This is gonna be the best house in the whole world!"

Reggie knows better, or at least knows this much is wrong. And it's her assignment in this hodgepodgy horror flick to poke around for the truth, as incoherent and derivative as it may be. Her first clue that something is desperately wrong is that the electricity in the house tends to go out, whether or not a thunderstorm is raging (and Darkness features more than its share of storms, loud and wet).

Soon the house is not only dark at all hours, but also stealing Paul's colored pencils (by way of the resident evil spirit, apparently quite dexterous), making creaky sounds, and sending forth sludge from its faucets, the sort of sludge that such movies pass off as ominous portent when really, the point is your basic gross-out. Reggie seeks solace with a new boyfriend she meets at school, Carlos (Fele Martínez). He comes by to help her unpack boxes and paint her bedroom; she frets, "You can't imagine what it's like to be afraid of your own father." Carlos provides support when Reggie decides to visit the architect, Villalobos (Fermi Reixach), who designed the house. He sensibly resists their insinuations ("I just draw the plans!"), but the kids make him feel guilty too, reminding him that the folks who gave him the measurements for these plans were sinister.

It's easy to see why she turns outside the nuclear family, as when Reggie does ask mom for help, Maria shuts her down, warning, "Don't go getting paranoid." Olin's signature combination of seething passion and cool detachment makes Maria's frustrated distractedness at least halfway convincing: no one in her right mind would be investing emotionally in this family, though it's not clear why she's moved to Spain with Mark, where she works a night shift and avoids hubby when he starts playing with knives, axes, and drills.

When, after a particularly raucous episode of pounding and scraping, Reggie finds Mark skulking at Paul's door, she confronts him: "Dad, what's wrong with you!?" She's the only character in sight who believes Paul's complaints that bad spirits are taking his pencils and swarming him in his room. "They never go away," says the boy, "they only hide... They live in the dark." Helpfully, the movie grants you a view of these shadowy little spirits (alluded to as "larvae"), who resemble -- you guessed it -- the still missing children, which means they're about Paul's height and their ghostly fingers coming at his neck are more than a little creepy. Too bad Reggie also believes that grandpa Albert is the proper family member in whom to confide her fears. Has she never seen a scary movie?

While Darkness is built on predictable plot turns, these are, in truth, the least of its problems. Even using these clichés -- the scary house, the demented dad, the occult background, the relentless thunderstorms -- all ideas that have shaped hundreds of films in the past, this one can't conjure a cogent storyline. Ooky ambiguity is one thing. Incoherence is another.

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less
Features

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge



7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
3
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image