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If you were unfortunate enough to see DARKNESS in U.S. theatres in late 2004 or UK theatres in 2005, you didn't see it, simple as that. No, you instead saw what Dimension thought they could get the most cash for. Meaning, the film was edited heavily for both objectionable content and to fit in more snugly to a short attention span running time. In all, Dimension cut nearly fifteen minutes from the original running time. With Dimension's way, they over-dubbed any foul language, toned down some of the more frightening scenes and threw out some sequences altogether. This way, the film was cleared with a "PG-13" rating and fit nicely into a two hour running time, when you consider the half hour of trailers and soda commercials theatre patrons are forced to sit through, that is. So, much as everyone trashed the film on its U.S. release, your judgments are not for DARKNESS, sorry to say. You can't judge a film that has been chopped up to this extent. Two minutes of excised gore won't save a turkey like CURSED, but fifteen minutes makes a world of difference. You may have some harsh words to say about Dimension's butchery, but the original cut is another story.

What really stings is that Dimension, as they are wont to do, led everyone involved to believe they were enthusiastic supporters of DARKNESS. That's certainly what I would believe if my small horror film were purchased for $4 million after receiving rave reviews throughout Europe. But no, instead Dimension sat on the film for two and a half years while they decided what to do with it. Director Jaume Balaguer� must be especially pissed, since they did the same thing to his 1999 film, THE NAMELESS. That superior horror film remained unreleased even as a truncated DARKNESS finally escaped the Weinsteins' company (It has finally been given a straight-to-video release on the street date as DARKNESS).

The constant delays only cost Dimension money. Even if they occasionally pulled a minor hit out of their hat as with the two year delay for HERO, it pales in comparison to what they could have gotten if they had beaten the flood of DVDs and Oscar noms to the punch. The heavy cutting is especially puzzling. They may talk about all the hype surrounding the benefits of a "PG-13" rating. But whenever they have sliced a film up, it has never been profitable for them. So, if neither process works from a business standpoint, one wonders why Dimension kept doing it to the very end. Obviously, the studio was there for the sole purpose of making money, as are most studios. But they weren't making money, but they stubbornly plugged ahead with the same failing practices.

The Weinsteins strayed far from the pack over the last ten years. When their studio Miramax was bought by Disney, they promised not to compromise the artistic reputation they had built for so many years. And for a couple years, they kept that promise. But since they began raking in much more than they would have ever dreamed, it's easy to see how they could be led so far astray. Back in the mid-1980s, there was no way a small outfit like Miramax was going to bankroll $100 million projects like the Disney-owned Miramax did. But unfortunately, they became more about the money than the art. Now that the Weinsteins have left and are going to form their own new company, they are reportedly taking the Dimension moniker with them.

Attention Bob and Harvey, this is the time to correct your past mistakes, to atone for your sins. Now is the time to treat genre pictures with the respect they deserve. No more delays, no more cutting, no more dictator like rule over productions that contradicts the very concept of independent film. Repent, sinners. Repent!

But once again, I digress. The topic of Miramax and Dimension's gross mis-management of my favorite genre typically causes multi-paragraph tirades and it would appear this is no exception. Sorry, guys I can't help myself. But I think I speak for all of Horror Express when I beg the Weinsteins - Please, make me find something else to bitch about for a change.

We're talking about DARKNESS. And truth be told, many still may dislike it now that the U.S. gets to see the film in its entirety. But if you like slow, psychological ghost stories with suspense and minimal CGI, you should like this one just fine.

We have a family that has been living in America for the past few decades. Now, they have moved back to the Spanish countryside. Husband Mark (Iain Glen - BEAUTIFUL CREATURES, RESIDENT EVIL: APOCALYPSE), wife Maria (Lena Olin - ROMEO IS BLEEDING, THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING) and youngest son Paul (Stephan Enquist) don't seem to have a problem with the arrangements. But the eldest daughter, Regina (Anna Paquin - X-MEN, THE PIANO) isn't too keen on being uprooted at this point in her life. She is of the age where many become estranged from their families. You feel an inner need to remain close, but the pull is just as strong to break away and claim your independence. She is considering leaving Spain and finishing school in the States with people she knows.

Regina changes her mind when her father has an episode. Apparently, Mark has a rare brain disease which causes him to go into convulsions from time to time and makes his behavior erratic, with wild mood swings and inane ramblings. Mark hadn't had an attack for over ten years, but now they are coming again. Fearing for the safety of her brother, of whom she is very protective, she decides to stick around.

But her brother has his own problems. He is suddenly afraid of the dark, a malady he has never suffered from. He is waking up with bruises along his neck and face. And he speaks of some mysterious children who don't like him, because they claim he is an imposter. Meanwhile, Mark's behavior does get worse, with frequent outbursts and an obsessive need to renovate their new home right down to the foundation. Maria tries to keep her family together by placating their fears while being hurt over the idea that her daughter may be drifting away.

This is the start to a detailed haunted house story. It's one of those tricky films to review like SECRET WINDOW or UNBREAKABLE. The more you reveal, the more you risk spoiling the film for anybody.

I will warn you all right now, DARKNESS is a slow movie. In fact, at times it felt too slow for its own good. Certain scenes went on a bit too long and perhaps about five minutes could have been trimmed, not that I am condoning Dimension's hack job for a second. If you like your horror films, even your Spanish horror films with a little more pizazz and action, I recommend watching a Paul Naschy movie instead. This is a slow burn, along the lines of M. Night Shyamalan's films, only much darker. Thankfully, the film picks up considerably after a rough first 45 minutes, but it retains a very gradual pace in building up to what is actually an amazing conclusion.

The muted tone helps the film of course. There are two types of scares used in the film. There are times when the film is sped up and the camera whips around as the screen flashes white. This may look more commercial but it doesn't make for a scarier film. No, the best moments are the ones of quiet dread, where the camera zooms back and the kids don't disappear or reappear in a flash of light, but are just there. The idea that this group could be watching at any time, or even at all times, is a spooky one to say the least.

The film is not called DARKNESS for nothing. Much is made of the dark, and the director has a good time scaring us with what may be there. Balaguer� seems to have a great complimentary relationship with his wonderful cinematographer Xavi Gim�nez (GENESIS, INTACTO, THE MACHINIST). The two work together to achieve the mood of the piece, Gim�nez setting up the frame, and Balaguer� setting the scene. The director shrouds the action in shadow, plays tricks with the lighting and puts the viewer in such a mindset, that we swear something might be lurking in the shadows. And sometimes, we're right.

The themes in this film recall Balaguer�'s THE NAMELESS. That was a fantastic horror film and its release makes it one of the year's must see movies. Balaguer� has a recurring theme of family and the forces that threaten to destroy it. He joins other filmmakers in this fascination, including Speilberg, although Balaguer� is less coy and naive in his presentation. His take on the fragile family structure recall early works by Stephen King like THE SHINING and CUJO, both books dealing with crumbling family structures and not necessarily coming up with particularly valid cases for their reconstruction.

Anna Paquin is pretty low-key as Regina and probably needs a little more life to her character, disaffected youth or no. Lena Olin is a great unsung actress and does a fine job with a supporting role. Stephan Enquist, in his first and so far only role, skillfully conveys a sense of vulnerability and helplessness. But it's Giancarlo Gianni (HANNIBAL, CQ) as the sympathetic grandfather that really stands out. He has a deep, chilling voice which contradict his sad, sympathetic eyes.

THE NAMELESS is definitely the better of Balaguer�'s films. But for a good, chilling haunted house tale, DARKNESS offers some great scares. Too many haunted house films have made believe that the house itself is the star of the picture. Not so. The house is a set-piece and nothing more. It is what resides within the walls of the house that truly strikes terror into our hearts. And of course, spirits being the leeches that they are, these forces are nothing without the complex and damaged characters that inhabit the house on the mortal plane. At the very least, DARKNESS is a rare film that remembers this valuable lesson.

Reviewed by Scott W. Davis