Alex and Penny are sick of the hectic city life and decide a move out to the country to raise their newborn child. But they don’t expect the horrors threatening their relationship and family.
I really do feel torn after watching Dark Circles, because there are some aspects which are so good yet some aspects which are abysmal. The correct word for describing the film is probably – confused.
The introduction was strong, with a fantastic spinning opening shot which looked ready for cinemas as far as I was concerned. A woman cradles her baby whilst calming music is played, then we are introduced to a silent, eerie pregnant woman who stands sinisterly in the hallway, bleeding heavily. After letting her inside and getting her to lie down, Penny (our main protagonist) hurriedly looks for her mobile to call for help. Meanwhile the creepy woman pulls out a bloody mass from under her dress and silently walks off-screen. Penny eventually turns round and notices the missing woman, the bloody mass placed carefully on her sofa and the trail of bloody footprints leading to her baby’s bedroom. Following them, she just has time to see the woman push a cabinet in front of the door, keeping Penny out as she bangs ferociously on the door in a way only a mother protecting her child can. She finally gets into the room to see the woman standing over the crib, a haunting black figure, a figure of death, lingering horribly close to her baby boy. However, what we initially take to be the woman’s back turns out to be her front, as she parts her hair revealing the fact that she’s actually looking straight at Penny herself, advancing on her menacingly. Cue Penny waking up from a nightmare in distress.
This is all fantastic stuff, and a brilliant way to launch straight into the action, but this is about as good as Dark Circles ever gets unfortunately. I understand what director Paul Soter was trying to achieve – to get audiences curious about what this crazy woman is, a hallucination, a ghost or an actual lunatic, stalking about their house? This is good stuff still, to keep the audience guessing and unsure, unable to predict as they usually can with horror films. But this conundrum was dragged on far too long and a decision should really have been made at least by the halfway point of the film what the woman was. Due to the title being Dark Circles, referencing the effect of tiredness on the eyes, it made sense to me that the whole thing should have just been a hallucination of some kind, caused by lack of sleep, but sadly this wasn’t the outcome opted for.
I can spot similarities to Inside, the French film where an almost-mother is tormented by a strange woman who wants her baby, who wants to literally cut it out of her stomach! Although, Dark Circles is nowhere near as visceral as Inside and wanders the line carefully between a ghost story and a slasher. There was even one moment which had The Shining written all over it – where Penny and her husband Alex locked themselves in the bathroom in order to escape someone who desperately wants to hurt them. The standard storyline of Dark Circles is much the same as a lot of other horror movies, with a normal, happy couple wanting to move to the countryside for a restful new life (lots of haunted house films have this intro, such as The Amityville Horror). However, problems occur when workmen start noisy work at building a house nearby, keeping the couple (and the baby) awake constantly and eventually draining the life out of them.
Penny and Alex are persistently plagued by visions of this creepy woman, as well as other bad omens surrounding the baby (such as a burnt doll appearing everywhere), which continue to further the couples despair. They begin to turn on each other, desperately trying to find rational excuses to the craziness that surrounds them. Although this manages to carry the film so far, eventually it rather runs out of steam. It gets to a point where the audience needs something more, some more answers or development to the mystery as we start to get weary just watching the film.
Another film which briefly comes to mind when thinking of Dark Circles is The Pact, which came out a few years previously. This was a horror movie which tried to blur the borders between the supernatural and the rational – with rather poor results. The problem both of these films face is that if, say, a real-life killer is lingering about your house, there are certain limitations which constrain what they can do. This is why supernatural phenomena is generally preferred for this type of film, as it allows more freedom for strangers to just appear and disappear at the blink of an eye.
The cinematography looked very slick and professional, the acting was great (with a memorable, yet light-hearted performance from the cute teenage babysitter) and tension was maintained throughout (though not escalated, as is usually the case). As a viewer we are really put into the mindset of the characters sleepy and disturbed state, with ourselves not even being aware of what is real and what is not. Overall, there were lots of good elements to Dark Circles which I hope I’ve made clear, but the bad stuff was pretty major and overwhelming.
Dark Circles (2013)