When bouncer Roy begins to lose grip with his life, suffering from bad luck and bad dreams, his co-worker sends him to meet her shrink who specialized in interpreting dreams. The psychiatrist believes that Roy is blessed with a gift called the Darken. Slowly Roy begins to suspect that the doctor’s ramblings may actually be true and soon find himself involved in a supernatural mystery involving supernatural killers, demons and unicorns.
Low budget, independent (and rather prolific, it seems) director John Johnson produces, writes (along with Lincoln Lilly), directs, edits, provides special effects and stars in his latest release, Darken, for Darkstone Entertainment. He’s a one man movie machine. The film suffers from many of the tropes typical of these types of independent films. Yet, somehow, the film manages to display a spirit and energy that frequently rises above the below par acting, overwrought and over-complicated script and awkward editing. It manages to entertain despite itself.
John Johnston is credited on his Darkstone Entertainment site (he’s listed as “head cheese”) with over 99 films while IMDB credits him with at least 33 films as director. At the very least, he knows how to craft a film – he’s the unsung Al Adamson of our time. Darken is most likely a prime example of John Johnston’s craft. The film looks and feels like an above average student film relying on available lighting, cheap special effects, friends for actors and blind ambition. To his credit, he manages to make the most of an over worked script, delivering an enjoyable, if ultimately forgettable, movie.
Most of the acting in Darken is just plain awful, amateurish and stilted. John Johnston takes the lead of Roy, the bouncer who finds he has a supernatural gift. He delivers his one liners and monologue like a third rate 90’s action star, making Van Damme and Schwarzenegger seem like Lawrence Olivier and Marlon Brando by comparison. But, to be fair, he also does so with just enough flair and levity to make the character likable and more than tolerable – and occasionally funny from time to time, especially when he falls off a cliff in order to discover his character cannot die. He knows how to deliver an “Oh, shit!” line, that’s for sure. It may take a bit, but before long, Johnson embodies his character with a bizarre and honest charm. His costars don’t fare any better, most coming across like friends or local acting students wandering on and off of set as needed. His co-writer, Lincoln Lilly, has an early small role that he joyfully and shamelessly overacts. Whisper Nicole stars as Rhea, the young lady Roy finds himself protecting from harm. She is attractive and mysterious, but the less she speaks the better. Leo Rogstad plays Callous, a supernatural killer hot on Roy’s trail who comes across like the dubbed supporting cast straight out of the lowest of low budgeted Jackie Chan film. Alvaro Coronado comes out the best, perhaps, as the wealthy tycoon after Rhae and her special powers.
Like most low budget films of this ilk, the special effects within Darken are weak but serviceable. Nothing extraordinary but nothing offensively terrible either. Blood from gun shot wounds are dribbled onto the victims clothes with no evidence of actual wounds. When the supernatural characters battle each other flinging waves of energy in each other’s direction, the effects looks like what viewers would find on late night “Skinamax” films. Missing is the vision of something you’d find in an Evil Dead or a graphic low budget zombie film. Much of the more entertaining special effect revolve around the various scream queen actresses and their more attractive assets, such as Syn Devil and Danielle Fluker. By the time Roy is running around with his entire chest covered with a bright red bloody wound, it clear the budget is restricting Johnson’s vision, but never his passion.
For a low budget film, Darken has a surprising amount of characters and plot. On one hand, the film is always on the move and keeps at a quick pace; on the other hand, however, the script is confusing and convoluted. The ideas are interesting easily keeping the film afloat. Still, it’s lack of focus on its core characters makes the film frequently long and laborious. The dialog doesn’t help matters much. It is often corny and cliched struggling to provide its characters with funny witty bits or creative, original one liners, most of which fall flat. The best it manages to do is give the entire film an air of fun and good-natured hi-jinks.
Darken is a difficult film to recommend, but there are far worse film out there. Faint praise, for sure. The film has a sincerity to it and a lively approach that allow it to rise over its many flaws more often than not. Occasionally, it delivers lines like “Naked chick kicking my ass” with an effective deadpan sense of humor it strives for. The acting is stiff, awkward and, at times, laughably bad; but, John Johnston keeps the film interesting drawing on the strength of its awfulness to give it a unique identity all its own. Bad dialog, an over complicated script and jumpy editing weigh the film down while its shoddy effects are nearly the last nails in its own coffin. With the right attitude and curiosity, however, Darken can provide an enjoyable and amusing ninety minutes; but, for most, it will be too rough to sit through and entirely too forgettable to stomach. Surprisingly, it may just be far better than it has any right to be.
2 out of 5