I have to start out this review with a confession. Before I even popped the DVD in, I was really hoping to give The Darkness Within a glowing review. For one, the movie was filmed mostly within the director’s apartment in Revere, Massachusetts. I lived there myself for about a year, just off Point of Pines Beach. It’s a much maligned town by a slot of the elite snobs in this part of the state, though it’s hard to argue that it has much going for it aside from the Kelly’s roast Beef stand that’s open on the boardwalk until two am (it’s a great place for a late night roast beef or clam strip fix if you don’t mind waking up the next day feeling like you’ve swallowed a rock). I truly wanted to give a local brethren some love.
Secondly, the movie was done on the cheap. I believe the number was roughly $3000 or thereabouts. It continues to blow my mind that technology has gotten to the point where one can bring their visions to life without having to hock a kidney to do so. The better one of these micro budgeted movies does, the more likely it is other enterprising filmmakers will pick up their cameras to do the same.
Sadly, The Darkness Within falls victim to its budgetary limitations in some key areas.
Before we get to them, let’s look at the story itself. Chad (Jimmy Scanlon) and Ashley (Michelle Romano) are a young couple moving in to their new apartment. Although she’s just accepted his marriage proposal, we learn that all isn’t well in their relationship: he’s one drink away from losing her for good, and she’s been unfaithful in the past. As their moving in, Chad waves hello to his creepy next door neighbor (Sean Pierce), who just glowers at him while watering his lawn. Later that night said neighbor is caught peeking in the window. Justifiably creeped out, Chad’s confrontation with the neighbor the following day doesn’t go as planned. Soon he’s seeing the guy everywhere, always just watching him. The police offer no help and soon things begin to deteriorate on the home front as well. As Chad’s paranoia starts ramp up, his home life falls apart as he starts drinking again, and attempts to catch his neighbor in the act of spying. Does the neighbor pose any sort of real threat or is Chad imagining a villain? As he begins to crack up, the audience discovers not everything is on the level on the home front with a wicked third act twist. Though I wasn’t sold on the very last minute or two of the film, overall the story works as a solid psychological thriller.
Considering the limitations, the story itself is well done. It owes a nod to The Shining (and tips its cap to the film in its epilogue) as far as watching a character completely suffer a nervous breakdown. Pierce is outstanding as the disgruntled neighbor, and he tortures Chad with a combination of passive aggressiveness and bemusement throughout the film. The first moment he makes a two A.M. appearance in the window manages to be both startling and hilarious. I wish he had a bigger role in this, as he owns every scene he’s in. I actually found myself rooting for the guy. Unfortunately, there’s not enough of him peeking in on the couple. It needs a few more stalking scenes for the film to be truly effective. Hopefully, this version of this version of the film acts as a demo reel of sorts, providing funding for a more realized version of the concept.
One thing that immediately jumps out is the Boston accents in the film. Does anyone here remember the SNL skits with Rachel Dratch and Jimmy Fallon (“Nomahhhhhh!”)? You get ninety minutes of “Pahk the car in Havahd yahd ah you freakin’ retahded ” going on here. The upstairs neighbor characters are especially guilty of this, and it can be brutal listening to them early on, though they did grow on me by the film’s end. Honestly, the director should be commended simply for not giving in and naming him Sully while dressing his lead in a Red Sox Cap and “Jeter Sucks/A-Rod Swallows” shirt, because there’s no way I could resist that urge with the Southie accents going on here.
As mentioned, I hope Portalla can raise some funds and redo this film because the budget limits do come through. The biggest problem for me is the audio mix. I found myself having to significantly raise the volume for most of Chad’s spoken dialogue, and on a number of occasions had to rewind the scene in order to catch what he’d said, only to have to ramp the volume down as people started shouting at one another. It’s not a good sign when your audience can’t understand a huge chunk of what the lead is saying.
While Portalla makes the most of the cramped apartment confines, the film would have benefitted from a few more scenes outside its walls. There’s a scene where Chad notices his neighbor lurking in the park, and it works because the guy has no business being there. It would help the film if we saw him leering at the couple from afar in other public settings. While the film is shot well, there are some distractions. There’s a moment where Chad pounds on his neighbor’s door, and it looks like he’s been cut out and superimposed in the shot. I don’t know if you remember the Colorform toys of the 70’s where you’d put removable stickers against a backdrop to create a scene, but that’s what it looked like to me.
So there you have it, in what’s probably my most on the fence review of any film to date. While on one hand it definitely has its moments where it’s effectively creepy, the low rent aesthetics hold me back from endorsing the film whole heartedly. It definitely gets a lot done with a little, but it is a very rough effort.