Daniel (Zachary Mooren) is a young director being driven to the red-carpet premiere of his directorial debut, a documentary entitled "Darkness Reigns". En route, he records a first-person introductory video on his mobile 'phone. We learn that he's shot to fame and is now being courted by "JJ, Steven, Harvey; not to mention every big agent in town" - all because of a mysterious deal he claims to have made to get him into that position.
At his film's premiere, Daniel takes to the stage and gives a teary introduction to his film. We learn that it's an account of a series of tragedies which befell the cast and crew of a small horror film, "Defanatus Soul", while shooting on location in Missouri.
Cut to the film-within-a-film itself, which first sees Daniel and his producer Aaron (Ford Fanter) turn up at director Jacob's (James Packard) office just in time to witness the news that the film has finally landed a "name" actor: Casper Van Dien of STARSHIP TROOPERS fame. Daniel and Aaron are student filmmakers who've been hired to shoot behind-the-scenes footage for a documentary intended to be included on the upcoming horror film's DVD release.
Without delay, the action then shifts to Missouri, and the first day of the production's shoot. Van Dien comes across as a moody diva who doesn't want to be disturbed by Daniel ad Aaron between takes. The whole shoot seems quite serious and hectic. Some of the crew are more accommodating than others - such as make-up artist Vanessa (Linara Washington), who's open to given the documentarian duo a tour of her works. Producer Gabe (Matt Connor) is keen to keep the lads on side too. Up-and-coming scream queen Rebecca (Jennifer Wenger) seems affable enough.
Then there's womanising medium Sidney (Peter Mayer), who's role on set is that of "technical advisor". While interviewing him, Daniel asks what he thinks of the rumours that the abandoned hotel location they're filming is haunted: Sidney agrees that he feels a dark presence on site, and warns of an evil force amongst them ...
In the meantime, Daniel has been getting bothered by subtle scares - strange noises in the night, a disembodies voice telling him to "kill" Casper Van Dien, Sidney urging Daniel to check the footage that he's filmed, as the evil spirit he's sensed is growing stronger by the minute.
All of which he shakes off. However, there's a major of turn of events 31 minutes into proceedings involving the fatality of a key player. This throws the entire production into disarray, with the cast and crew in a panic as the doors and windows of the hotel seal themselves shut and half of the survivors inexplicably vomiting to death. Sidney steps forward in a bid to purge the hotel of this evil entity before it claims more souls ... but this thing is seriously annoyed, and there doesn't seem to be much hope of pacifying it.
Daniel insists on filming the proceeding events as proof of what happened, as he, Sidney, Aaron and Vanessa strive to survive the night and somehow outsmart this unseen but highly malevolent demon.
Writer-director Andrew P Jones' DARKNESS REIGNS is an interesting mash-up of found footage tropes and conventional moviemaking. Interesting, but not entirely successful.
It's at its most interesting when exploring meta territory, what with Van Dien hamming it up as a prima donna version of himself, completely lacking in self-awareness. The behind-the-scenes machinations and politics of low-budget filmmaking are accurately captured, while our documentarians' disdain for the "work of shi ... art" that they're watching getting made allows for wry moments of humour to poke through.
There's also some pretty inventive FX work going on: one character's internal organs are set alight by an invisible force which sees us watching them die a painful, prolonged death; elsewhere there are swarms of flies (not terribly convincing), innards being frantically pushed back into one victims torso in a bid to save them, and a demon which looks like it's walked straight off the set of a cheap genre flick from the late '80s. The gore isn't copious, but Jones doesn't leave his audience without either.
Oh, and the hotel location is put to good, eerie use.
Alas, DARKNESS REIGNS suffers from a few of the usual trappings of its genre. A lot of the performances leave something to be desired, lacking the spontaneity and naturalism required to convince us of the footage's realism. Key FX scenes are obscured by shaky handheld camera work and glitches in the recording during key moments. Ropey CGI also draws us further out of the action.
Mooren isn't terribly sympathetic as the sullen, career-hungry protagonist. A lot of the scare scenes are corny and will remind seasoned fans of better films.
Still, I admire DARKNESS REIGNS for its ambition and its go-for-broke approach to horror once the shit hits the fan about 30 minutes in.
The film looks good in this 16x9 transfer, with healthy colours and deep true blacks. The English 2.0 soundtrack came over well too.
Wild Eye Releasing are distributing DARKNESS REIGNS as a VOD title.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Wild Eye Releasing|