Darkness

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You have to hand it to Dimension Films. When they abandon a movie, they abandon it with gusto. Here is “Darkness,” a film shot in 2001 and originally scheduled for a summer 2002 release. Dimension pushed it back on the schedule numerous times before finally deciding to cut its losses and dump the thing into theaters on Christmas Day 2004. What better way to celebrate the birth of Jesus than to watch a film about satanic sacrifices and the unleashing of evil? This movie will disappear faster than wrapping paper at Rite-Aid on Christmas Eve. (Sorry, that’s the best one-liner I could come up with. Cut me some slack, I just sat through “Darkness.”)

It’s a lamentable film, a true waste of talented actresses Lena Olin and Anna Paquin, and a goofy retread of stock horror-flick devices. We have weird, atmospheric things occurring in a house that has a dark past; we have lights that go on and off randomly, and music boxes that start playing without human intervention; we have ominous trenchcoated men standing in the rain because they have important information for the protagonists; we have ghastly specters that appear and disappear in darkened corridors; and we have people who, despite coming to realize that their house came equipped with hot and cold running evil, continue to live in said house.

Also included in “Darkness”: a frazzled father who slowly goes insane in a creepy house and menaces his wife and son as they cower in a bathroom. Prior to this, white title cards on black backgrounds tell us what day of the week it is. If you have seen “The Shining” recently, all of this should seem familiar.

Set in Spain, but the part of Spain where everyone speaks English and no one has a Spanish accent, “Darkness” centers around a house wherein evil deeds occurred decades ago. No one has lived in the house for some time, but now a family has moved in. The father, Mark (Iain Glen), is allegedly from Spain originally; his American wife Maria (Lena Olin) is a nurse who works at the same hospital as Mark’s father (Giancarlo Giannini). They have a daughter called Reggie (Anna Paquin) and a son whom the movie mostly forgets about and so I have, too.

Weird things happen almost immediately, and we learn that 40 years ago, six children were killed by cultists in that very house. A seventh child escaped, and you get three guesses who he is now. Meanwhile, Mark occasionally has episodes of delirium and mania, causing Reggie to tell her mom, in a voice dripping with foreboding, “It’s starting again.” Alas, nothing really “starts” in this movie for a good long while. Things keep going bump in the night, but since the source of the bumping is too vague, we stop being scared after a while and start being impatient.

The plot boils down to cultists having to spill a particular person’s blood in order to “close the circle.” This device is old hat to those of us who saw every episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” but I suppose it’s still a reasonably good one, if it’s well-executed. That is not the case here, though. Writer/director Jaume Balagueró, having seen good horror movies, knows what elements to include but no idea how to incorporate them into a coherent story.

Word on the street is that the film was originally gorier (it is fairly tame now) and was trimmed to achieve a more profitable PG-13 rating. So it’s possible the story line was mangled in all the surgery, which means we ought to be blaming Dimension Films for the incomprehensibility. But we are not here to play the blame game. We are here to tell you that “Darkness” is a dull, unfrightening movie, and a terrible way to spend any night, let alone Christmas.

D (1 hr., 30 min.; PG-13, a little profanity, one F-word, a little violence, some disturbing images.)

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