DARKNESS FALLS (2020)

Darkness Falls 2020.jpg

Studio:      Vertical Entertainment
Director:    Julien Seri
Writer:      Giles Daoust
Producer:  Giles Daoust, Luke Barnett, Vincent Masciale, Mike Macari
Stars:     Shawn Ashmore, Gary Cole, Daniella Alonso, Richard Harmon, Judah Mackey, Sonya Walger, Vahina Giocante, Lin Shaye

Review Score:

55.jpg

Summary:

An LAPD detective hunts down a serial killing father and son suspected of staging his wife¡¯s murder to look like a suicide.


Synopsis:     

Review:

The first rule of unshaven maverick movie cops is they must have something to obsess over. For LAPD homicide detective Jeff Anderson, it¡¯s the haunting death of his wife Elizabeth.

Several months ago, Jeff came home to find his wife with slit wrists and a belly full of sleeping pills. Jeff was immediately suspicious. Elizabeth wasn¡¯t suicidal. Their young son Frankie mentioned a nightmare involving someone strange in their apartment. And Jeff remembers seeing two men in the shadows on the street before he went upstairs.

Convinced his wife was a serial killer¡¯s victim, Jeff has been immersed in the mystery ever since. Jeff¡¯s partner Kelly took the promotion he punted due to the tragedy, and she isn¡¯t impressed with how deeply Jeff remains devoted to proving his hunch. Neither is Jeff¡¯s mother Angela, who has been saddled with raising Frankie because Jeff¡¯s doggedness only leaves enough personal time to forget Disneyland plans with his son.

Kelly and Angela join Jeff¡¯s side when another woman survives a frightful encounter with a deadly father-son duo. Jeff connects several supposed suicides of prominent women to the murderous men¡¯s M.O. and sees a pattern whose path cut right through his home. Catching these killers was already personal. It becomes even more so when the men detect Jeff on the hunt and decide to turn their ¡°suiciding¡± spree into a family affair once again.

Previously titled ¡°Anderson Falls,¡± and not to be confused with a 2003 horror film bearing the same title, ¡°Darkness Falls¡± is a dramatic crime thriller that¡¯s more dramatic than thrilling. A breezy 84-minute runtime edits for an even rhythm that operates at a steadily safe pace. Although cinematography stocks up on familiar establishing shots like downtown L.A. skylines and overhead travel tracking drones, visuals are still appealingly crisp. Persistent music maintains a heavy mood too. But because ¡°Darkness Falls¡± swims in a shallow pool of cop and killer clich¨¦s, the film plays like a ¡°Law and Order: Criminal Intent¡± two-parter or similarly pedestrian police procedural that¡¯s been tamed down to fit small screen standards.

It¡¯s impossible to fall behind the plot¡¯s development since dialogue enjoys dealing in declarative exposition. Viewers are constantly kept in the know with characters conveniently speaking in awkwardly informative sentences such as, ¡°his wife killed herself three months ago. He¡¯s been prowling suicide scenes ever since.¡± We¡¯re similarly caught up on the conflict between Jeff and his former partner-turned-boss when she reminds him, ¡°I didn¡¯t steal your job. I took the damn job because you threw it down the toilet.¡±

Inherent design limitations prevent the story from moving any faster than its 55 mph baseline. One reason why suspense never breaks a sweat has to do with how long it takes Jeff to catch up to what the audience finds out in the prologue. Another reason relates to the sedated tactics the murderers use to dispose of their victims, which isn¡¯t cinematically exciting at all.

The first scene features the father and son killers forcing Jeff¡¯s wife to swallow pills before dragging her drugged body to the bathtub. It¡¯s a weirdly long one-er filmed in a wide shot from an adjacent room. That far distance combined with a lack of close-ups to quicken the pulse puts a thick pin in a balloon wheezing to fill up with tension. This setup stays a fair cry from being totally boring, though it¡¯s not exactly invigorated with energetic shocks either.

¡°Darkness Falls¡± additionally infuses dark clouds into its DNA through persistently draining storms of sadness. When a would-be victim recounts how her boyfriend interrupted the attempt on her life, Jeff has the unfortunate duty of informing the beaten woman that her beau was subsequently shot and killed. On cue, the woman has an ugly cry breakdown in her hospital bed. This inessential moment doesn¡¯t advance anything. It merely injects more anguish into an atmosphere already blanketed by bleakness when it could have avoided psychologically torturing a single-scene side character altogether.

Grey skies see brief balancing from the melancholy of Jeff¡¯s memories. Tears well in Jeff¡¯s wide eyes when bright flashbacks recall watching the sunset with his wife or laughingly cuddling in bed while piano keys echo underneath. The death grip ¡°Darkness Falls¡± puts on heartstrings tugs so desperately, it¡¯s a wonder each rental doesn¡¯t come with a custom tissue box.

How does ¡°Darkness Falls¡± roll a saving throw against all of these arrows of apathy? Even stuffed with stereotypes, the film earns its stripes from a competent cast of reliable, often undervalued character actors stepping up into spotlight roles.

Unintentional snickers arise when Jeff viciously shouts ¡°I hate you¡± at his Charlie Day conspiracy wall of female faces so he can climb into the heads of the killers and learn to ¡°think like them.¡± Hardly an approved profiling tactic, Shawn Ashmore nevertheless maintains a serious tone even when it¡¯s counterintuitive to cursory writing. Ashmore¡¯s determinedness to give Jeff more conviction than his thin characterization deserves results in a sympathetic presence, and a performance that¡¯s as robust as it can realistically get.

Gary Cole does the same as Mark, the elder half of the two killers. Mark doesn¡¯t do more than the customary gloating and goading consistent with any bad guy playing cat-and-mouse games with an on-the-edge police officer. Ever the professional, Cole stills cocks a sneering smirk and chews as much of the scenery as his dialogue¡¯s dentures permit. He¡¯s no Hannibal Lecter, not even close, yet he fits the bill fine as this week¡¯s guest star on an extended episode of ¡°Criminal Minds.¡±

Which links back to the introductory analogy. The inoffensively beige creativity of ¡°Darkness Falls¡± situates it comfortably alongside the likes of any ¡°watch while folding laundry¡± show following Dick Wolf¡¯s famous recipe. Professional polish and actors resigned with ¡°let¡¯s just give it a go¡± attitudes keep the movie¡¯s mouth breathing above the waterline where average separates ¡°alright¡± from forgettable waste of time. Some opinions will sink below that level, though there¡¯s something to be said for midline entertainment that only requires minimal audience engagement to get a remedial job done.

Review Score: 55