Film Review: The Darkness Within
The Darkness Within (2009)
Written and Directed by: Dom Portalla
Cast: Jimmy Scanlon, Michelle Romano, Ken Flott, Stephanie Maheu, Sean Pierce
Review by Marc Patterson
The best films — the ones that I tend to enjoy most — always come from surprising places. In the case of The Darkness Within, a psychological thriller, that place is the city of Revere, Massachusetts. Borrowing classic Hitchcockian elements, local writer/director Dom Portalla weaves a curious tale surrounding a young couple just getting started on their own and their very creepy next door neighbor.
The story unfolds with Chad (Scanlon) and Ashley (Romano), who have just been engaged and are getting their first apartment together. The apartment is a typical first time rental dive. It’s basement level on a busy road, infested with spiders and in need of plenty of TLC. Not exactly an ideal or safe place to live, but it’ll work. It also comes with a complementary psycho next door, played to intense perfection by Ken Flott. Mr. Reed (Flott) is less than cordial with his new neighbors, but keeps to himself… at first. When Chad catches Reed gazing through their bathroom window late one evening, he decides to confront him and that’s when things start to get really bizarre. Chad attempts to bring the police in, but they’re too busy to listen to his nonsensical rantings. Chad also attempts to reach out to his landlords upstairs for their insight, but his landlord turns out to be a young and wild gal named Jordan (Maheu) who is, as the kids seem to say these days, “bat shit crazy”. She sits around playing video games, cursing, and smoking up with her fuck buddy Dixon (Pierce). They aren’t going to be much help at all, but they’re at least good for a couple free beers and comic relief.
I don’t want to get into spoiler territory, but I think it’s safe to say that Chad’s obsession with his neighbor goes to a dark place and soon we’re questioning what’s really going on. Is Chad going crazy? Is he the psycho? Or will he and his girlfriend become the next victims of Mr. Reed?
I’m not going to lead anyone astray. There was a lot I liked about this film, and some things I didn’t. I’ll get the bad out of the way first, because I think there’s plenty of good to consider. Most noticeable, The Darkness Within suffers from typical shortcomings that plague so many no-budget films. On a technical level, the sound was less than optimal and the cinematography felt flat and lacking any depth. The color palettes were just too bland for my taste. Nothing really popped off the screen for me. I just thought that despite the setting, which was never really warm and inviting to begin with, this could have been a lot better looking and sounding. I’d also add to this that I’m not a big fan of quick edits. I know that when done well they give the effect of schizophrenia, but I would have liked to see those go away. For a story that seemed to derive some influence from Hitchcock thrillers it would have been good to see more of his technical styles brought into the film, and not just into the script.
Thus ends my main gripes. Shed away technical foibles that a bigger budget and more experienced technicians would likely cure, and what you’re left with is a gripping story that surprisingly delivered a shocking ending, and one that had me thinking I should have seen it coming all along. The fact that I didn’t see it early on is a compliment to Portalla.
I was also pleasantly surprised to see first time screen actors hitting the high notes so well. Across the board this was a capable cast. There were times when I felt Romano’s character Ashley was underwritten, or certain scenes could have been punched up a notch to bring out her character more, but all in all – no complaints. Clearly Scanlon gets the bulk of the screen time and he plays his role adeptly, moving through various stages of his persona swinging from a quiet and slightly reserved guy to full-on outrage as he goes after his tormentor next door. The big treat for me though was Stephanie Maheu (pictured here) who portrayed the wild and wacky landlady (or should that be land girl?) Her character was like a Bostonian version of Snooki from Jersey Shore. There were a few moments when I wasn’t sure that her scenes needed to be in the film. Comedic levity in a heavy, suspense-driven film tends to take the viewer out of the action, and this is no exception to the rule. That said, Maheu executed her part so well, and was so hilarious and fun to watch that I’d have a hard time saying “cut this scene” while in the editing room. Then again – I find Snooki to be a guilty pleasure, so if this tells you anything…
Ultimately, The Darkness Within proves a fun bit of indie cinema that does an effective job at fucking with the viewer’s head and stringing us along until the credits roll. It features an above average script supported by an above average cast. Simply put: if you can hook me and keep me on the line for ninety minutes, then I’d say job well done. So, to Portalla and cast… Job well done!
Official Website: http://www.doorelevenproductions.com/darkness/