I’m gonna do something I don’t normally do in a review, and I’m gonna talk about the ending later on (So: SPOILERS TO FOLLOW). It’s strange, because even with some really shitty films I’ve seen and written about, I’ve never been too explicit about how they finish. But now I’m not feeling particularly respectful with the makers of DARK CIRCLES.
I’ve not had much dealings with After Dark Pictures. Scott has bit the bullet on more than one occasion, not having had much luck with getting screeners (In his own words, “It’s almost like they’re not proud of their own product.”). Still, that shouldn’t stop me from jumping in and giving them a chance, right?
DARK CIRCLES opens on Penny (Pell James, ZODIAC), a woman spending all her time trying to get her baby to sleep (maybe if the camera didn’t keep trying to be clever and spin around and around during the opening credits, she might have a chance?). When she finally does put the kid down, there’s a fierce pounding on the apartment door. She opens it to find a strange, heavily-pregnant woman outside. The woman says nothing, but the copious amounts of stained blood on her dress below her belly sets off alarms in Penny;s head. She lets the woman in and sets her on the couch, but after turning her back on her to find her phone, she finds the woman missing. Quickly Penny goes to the baby’s room, finding the woman there. Penny approaches, never having seena horror film before in her life, and the woman leaps at her shrieking-
Only for Penny to wake up, still heavily pregnant and oblivious to having been part of a cheap and ineffective scare for the audience. She is partnered up with Alex (Johnathon Schaech, QUARANTINE) who is a composer (which, like the novelist, is one of a few occupations that film makers like to give their main characters, despite how fucking rare it actually is for anyone to make a living out of it). They are preparing to leave the big city and move out into the country, to get some peace and quiet, and especially to help Alex compose. He’s got composer’s block (because every artist on film has to have blockage), which is why he misses out on the call that Penny has gone into labour, and consequently misses the birth. Don’t worry Alex, at least you were there for the important part, right? Am I right, guys? And what is it with women always leaving the toilet seat up?
They have a lovely boy Tanner (played by Arabella and Ever Eloise Landrum. They’re babies, they haven’t been in anything before. No excuse, you slackers!) and after a little montage of parent-child bonding, the new family moves out into the woods, where they settle down and live happily ever after- no wait, it’s where the s**t hits the fan. The previous owners left the garage filled with junk, and Alex has to squeeze his grand piano in there like he was in a Marx Brothers movie, and spend his nights wrapped up in hat and gloves and pound the keys. They find a half-burnt doll in the barbecue pit. (“Now everything we cook is gonna taste like baby,” Alex quips). There’s construction work going on nearby, all day, every weekday, exacerbating the couple’s sleep deprivation from getting used to their little rugrat.
And it worsens. There’s strange noises coming from the pipes, strange sightings in the baby camera, shadows in the woods. Alex, in a half-trance in the kitchen, lets a knife get stuck in the sink’s trash compactor while his baby, lying beside it, reaches out for the whirring blade… later, Alex almost scalds the baby by not checking the bath water. Better not reserve that space on the wall for the Father of the Year award, Alex.
Back in the garage, Alex becomes obsessed with a dark-haired woman in a number of different photos, the same woman but in different times and places. In another apparent hallucination, Alex imagines the dark-haired woman in bed beside him. It’s ominous – you know it’s ominous because the music tells you so.
Basically this sort of crap goes on for far longer than it should. We get it already, they’re seeing stuff, their tempers are fraying, and their hallucinations are related but they don’t know it beause they’re barely talking to each other now. In another incident, Penny slumps down and nods off, and Tanner, in a little wagon, is wheeled off by an unseen force and brought to the top of the stairs (I’m beginning to suspect that the kid is being menaced by Wednesday Addams or Wile E Coyote).
You know what, guys? Switch off the monitor and let the kid cry himself out. The dialogue indicates he’s five months old by this stage, you know not to lie him down on his side or his stomach, and you can get other types of alarms, as well as things like gripe water. Or whiskey.
At a local supermarket, Alex encounters Nancy (Jenn Foreman), a checkout girl he instantly hires to babysit overnight without even asking her first name. Seriously, I thought I just missed it because of bad editing, but he never gets around to asking anything about the girl he hires to stay downstairs in his house with his son while Penny and he collapse upstairs, and this is explicitly stated later on.
Nancy is slightly amused by the couple and their Walking Dead impression – but is less amused by the strange sounds and sights she hears when she’s left alone downstairs with the little ankle biter. Investigating such sounds and sights (without switching on any lights of course), Nancy is attacked by the strange woman, Nancy’s cries for help going unheard by the comatose couple upstairs…
Okay, enough already. There’s an earnestness to DARK CIRCLES, a real attempt to be unnerving and spooky and series in portraying the mental and emotional breakdown of the couple and their relationship, in the midst of what we eventually learn is a definite threat to them and their child. The actors playing the couple do it well. The director shows a certain flair for visualising their delirium and confusion.
But it’s the denouement that is so disappointing. It turns out that the threat is real, a woman who (we learn by expositional voice-over at the end) is a woman who lost her baby weeks before and went missing from the hospital, and presumably has been playing Crazy Anne Frank ever since. It’s such a perfunctory explanation it almost feels like it would have been better to have left it unresolved, or to have gone the supernatural route. Remember those old movies where a house was supposedly haunted, but it turned out to be Nazi spies or gangsters trying to scare away folk (because the censors at the time were tighter than a pair of Size Zero jeans on the subject of the supernatural)? They were always disappointing, and so is this, especially when we’re not given any chance to assume that it’s anything but a supernatural menace.
And it leaves a number of questions unanswered, such as:
- If this was a woman who came into the couple’s lives when their kid was five months old, why did Penny have a nightmare about her at the start of the movie?
- Why would the woman leave the couple alive in the house when she kills everyone who stops in for five minutes?
- Why didn’t anyone come looking for the woman if she went missing in the area?
- Why didn’t anyone come looking for the dead babysitter, a teenager who presumably was last seen in public at work talking with a suspicious-looking Alex, a newcomer to town?
- When Alex goes after the construction crew and attacks one of their cars, mistakenly thinking it’s Sunday morning instead of Monday, why does the foreman simply let him go off without an ass kicking, or at least the threat of legal action or prosecution for criminal damage?
Okay, you get the idea. Or at least the warning. Competently made and acted, but perfunctory in outcome. DARK CIRCLES is available on DVD and VOD, and the trailer is below.
Director: Paul Soter
Plot: 2 out of 5 stars
Gore: 1 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Deggsy. The D is silent. It’s not talking until After Dark Films apologizes for this movie.