Argh! Being a fan of the horror genre can be a very frustrating experience. Well being a fan of films in general can be, but in particularly horror because most of these movies are about the extremes of reality, be it serial killers and masked maniacs or creatures under your bed, its about the horrifying edges of our reality (or fantasy). So when making a film about the extremes you should make the it extremely. I’m not saying all horror movies need to have the dynamic intensity of The Evil Dead, but a mood piece like the modern classic The House of The Devil is still a very intense hour and a half.
The trouble with Deep in the Darkness is that all the elements are there to make a great creature feature. Okay maybe not all: the film starts off with a young doctor and his family moving to a New Hampshire town and weird things are afoot with suspicious neighbours and everyone going to a church with no alter etc. This is rapidly becoming one of the most whorey old set ups in filmdom. They even have a dog who might as well have a target on his back. But there are a lot of good actors here. Sean Patrick Thomas is solid and moody as the doc and his neighbour is Dean Stockwell who has been acting since he was about five. He could act against a half empty packet of crisps and give a good performance. Also the locations are quite interesting. Sure we’ve seen these quiet middle American towns in a hundred films but we have lush waterfalls and creepy barns all over the shop here which really add to the atmosphere.
Best of all are the creatures. Okay, bit of a spoiler so time so skip this bit. The main reason everyone acts weird in the town is because they are being controlled by some ancient cave dwelling troglodytes. No wait a a minute come back! I know that sounds like an angry version of Stig of the Dump, and well yes I suppose it is, but the creatures really work. They look like a cross between Neanderthals and zombies, all naked and dirty with long hair covering their bits but also with rotten faces and skulls showing through. Best of all are their flashing yellow eyes which are used to great effect as they peer out of the darkness at Thomas and his family. They also move really well and director Colin Theys gets the most out of them just darting out of shot or crawling out of the fireplace. They’re really well realised even though they must have been pretty cheaply done.
However, the monsters are stranded in a film that just doesn’t live up to their potential, and its all a matter of pace. Right from the off the story undermines itself. We start near the end with Thomas holding his seemingly dead daughter in his arms and then flashback to the beginning of events. This in itself isn’t a bad thing as it can give the film an air of tragedy and lead up to this awful moment in the lead’s life. But the scene turns out not to be that important and just seems to be there in order to make the beginning a bit more interesting. After that the film slows down to a crawl as Thomas moves to the town of Ashborough and everyone acts suspicious for a while. Even Thomas from the offset acts like the whole thing is a mystery waiting to be solved. And this is before anyone has even started acting weird.
Anyway there’s nothing wrong with a bit of first act build up but then there is the big revelation about the monsters and their dwelling and what is going on and then… then Thomas goes back to his house and says hey there’s some weird shit going on so lets sit around frowning about it for a while. Also his wife keeps on walking about in the night by herself and he doesn’t even mention it to her. Sure he does try half heartedly to escape but he just seems kind of nonplussed about the whole thing. A bit later on there’s some more crazy monster mayhem and then… its back to his house to watch his wife sleeping for a bit. What I’m saying is that once the shit starts hitting the fan everything needs to step up a notch and it can’t go back to moody scenes of people looking a bit suspicious any more. The story is propelling towards a climax, don’t sit back and relax.
Its infuriating because there is a lot of good ideas here but every time it looks like all hell is about to break loose Thomas will sit down on a sofa and look perplexed about the whole thing instead. It doesn’t help that as well shot as the film is there are a lot of mid to wide shots of our main protagonist investigating stuff which makes him more remote. If the idea was that we are watching him from the monsters point of view then so be it, but surely we are following the story from Thomas’s character. So we should have more shots from his perspective?
I feel a bit bad about criticising this film. It is obvious that a lot of work has gone into trying to make a good story with some great original monsters (well sort of, they remind me a lot of the main character in the London Underground cannibal classic Death Line) but structurally it seemed to have lost its way and instead of being a tight turn of the screw. it is a bit dull apart from when the yellow eyed beasts of about. Also there are a number of lapses in logic and plot holes – I have no idea what is going on at the end at all. And where DOES that dog go?
Either bravely or foolishly, the author of the original book Deep in the Darkness is based on is available for questioning on a board on the film’s imdb page and he suggests that an awful lot is cut out of the book which would help would have helped with the story a bit, but time restraints and budgetary limitation meant that a lot got chopped. It seems like everyone involved tried to make a good film, but isn’t that always the case?