NOVEMBER 17, 2010
Early on in The Darkroom, there’s an closeup of a door labeled “Room 7”, and I instantly thought of the film Room 6, which wasn’t bad but suffered from an obvious twist scenario. But I was also reminded of the film Shallow Ground (both films start with a bloodied youth found wandering in an isolated locale and having no recollection of who he is - and I'm 99% positive they're even shot in the same area), which I really liked, so I forgot about the Room 6 connection and kept on watching, as the now adult amnesiac (Reed Diamond) tried a memory loss drug which seemingly didn’t work, and then escaped the institution after another patient caused a ruckus and left the guards distracted. So far, so good!
No less than 5 minutes later, our main character almost gets hit by a bus, except there’s another person in the street behind him, which is awkward. “Oh Christ, he’s not really there, is he?” I said to myself, and got confirmation 5 seconds later when he asked some people for change and they ignored him. Not two minutes after that, he finds a kid who talks to him and becomes his friend, and again, “Wait a minute, is that him as a younger kid? Is this entire movie him inserting his adult self into his younger self’s memory in order to figure out what happened to him?” Then, adding insult to injury, I look up the director and writer on IMDb and sure enough – same guys who made Room 6 (Michael Hurst and Mark Altman)! It wasn’t just a random memory in my head being triggered, it was an intentional reference!
Ordinarily I’d make the claim that “If you have never seen a movie before, the twist might work/you might enjoy the film”, but I’m not sure that’s the case in The Darkroom. You need not to have seen any films before to figure out that he’s not really there – while movies like Sixth Sense wisely keep their ghost/hallucination characters away from others (or work in a reason to be ignored, i.e. the “angry” wife), this one keeps having him awkwardly being ignored, by the likes of waitresses and cops. Hell, at one point the kid brings him into his house to help him pick a lock, and the guy doesn’t even do it himself, he just tells the kid how. How obvious can you get? Worse, they wait FOREVER to “reveal” this to the audience, complete with a “did you notice no one ever talked to him?” flashback montage. They would have been wiser to go the Beautiful Mind route and reveal it much sooner and have that be another obstacle for the main character.
Or the thing that propels him to DO something. More problematic than the obvious twist is the fact that our hero (the younger version, played by Shawn Pyfrom) is a total moron, standing around doing nothing while the killer tortures the kid’s girlfriend, letting his step-dad verbally abuse his mother, etc. And of course, the older one can’t do anything, because he’s not actually there. Even when he discovers that the guy is cheating on his mom, he doesn’t even say anything, despite the fact that he’s snooping around specifically looking for something to prove the guy’s bad news. So it’s an unusually passive movie too – even with its short length (80 minutes), it’s a long stretch until something happens.
Well, unless you count the monster/kill scenes that never really amount to anything. Diamond sees these monsters (courtesy of Rob Hall) every now and then, and there’s also an apparent serial killer, since a cameo-ing Richard Riehle and some other construction workers find a body in a pit they are digging up, but this stuff just feels like it’s tossed in to pepper the movie with “action” instead of being an organic part of the story. It’s never even made clear if the girl that Riehle found was killed by the same guy who is trying to kill Pyfrom’s girlfriend.
They also did a piss-poor job of casting the film. Pyfrom and Diamond look nothing alike, but I guess that could be considered an attempt to hide the twist, so I’ll let it slide. However, Greg Grunberg as an evil step-dad just doesn’t work – the guy is just too boyish looking and personable. I’m all for guys playing against type, but I mean, look at newly minted Sexiest Man Alive Ryan Reynolds in Amityville – he was totally convincing when he went psycho in the climax. But Grunberg just can’t bring the evil, and I spent half the movie wondering why Pyfrom hated him so much, because he seemed pretty charming to me. Plus, the end of the film takes place 15 years later, and again his boyish looks betray the character – he’s now supposed to be 50 or so? But all they did was give him a beard. Diamond actually looks older than him, even though he’s supposed to be his stepson. So it just makes things kind of confusing as well.
But then again, it IS only 80 minutes, and Diamond is a pretty interesting actor, plus there are some occasional monsters for some reason. It’s also well made, and you can’t go wrong with hiring Ray Stella as your DP. So in short, if it’s on and you got nothing better to do, you'll be mildly entertained and it won't offend you. And it’s always nice to see Lucy Lawless (as Pyfrom’s mom), so there’s something. But hopefully these guys give up on the twist movies and go back to doing what they do best – making fun of Uwe Boll.
What say you?