A man deals with the personal tragedy of his family’s death by living at the vacation cabin that they last stayed at. He soon discovers he’s not alone.
A single setting horror film is a tricky bit to pull off. Populating the limited space with one human character is an even ballsier endeavor, as it plays with the proverbial fire that is audience tedium. Even two successful recent examples, “I Am A Ghost” and “Armistice,” faced derision from gore hounds who were bored to tears by meticulous builds and wordless stretches.
Both had yours truly engrossed, if only to reach an answer to the question “Where in the hell are they going with this?” Posing the same central query is writer/director Michael Yurinko’s “The Darkening (Entity (2013),” an ultimately disappointing thriller pitting lone protagonist Eugene against vague forces of evil in his snowbound cottage. Though adequately performed by Holt Boggs (“Bigfoot Wars”) amidst an eerie atmosphere, it rarely finds any semblance of cohesion betwixt scare tactics, crumbling into a ridiculous final third. I have to side with the gore hounds on this one, friends.
But, for different reasons. We meet Eugene as he awakens in the throes of a night terror/choking fit deal. Baffled by the episode, he pours a drink and converses with nervous canine Denzel. Knowing very little going in, I was hoping that his obsessive viewing of home movies featuring a lovely wife and two little girls was a deception, and the big reveal relied on his true identity. No such luck, as even the synopsis tags him a grieving father and husband.
The second attempt at sleep is even less fruitful, Eugene rising abruptly again to find himself covered in deep scratches and the dog hiding within the house. He is also trapped, all possible exits buried under a freak blizzard. This results in exhaustive sequences of snow being shoveled from the attic window for what feels like an endless chunk of runtime. To break up the monotony we’re treated to occasional bits of tame poltergeist activity and Eugene’s involuntary flip-outs, which grow more unintentionally comedic with each instance.
Realizing there is no escape and following a spontaneous attack by Denzel that ends with a screwdriver protruding from the dead pet’s neck, Eugene decides the only recourse is suicide. Unfortunately, his method of just wrapping a rope around his neck a few times without knotting it makes about as much sense as shooting yourself in the foot and hoping you bleed out before help arrives. This is indicative of “Darkening” as a thematic whole. None of the events depicted seem remotely connected by anything other than location. By the time the attempt on his own life is made, Eugene’s plight becomes uninvolving, entailing merely stuff flickering away on a screen.
There are a few indications of direction hinted at throughout, but all further bury the proceedings in murkiness. A one-sided conversation with a bust of Jesus Christ and a quick glimpse of an old newspaper clipping do more harm than good in the comprehension department, and the arrival of one of the daughters in a hallucination comes far too late in the game to appear as more than desperate padding. The fact that absolutely nothing of interest is revealed in Eugene’s imagined chat with the girl further cements it.
The twist, though pulling a few minor disparate elements together in presentation, is so far out of left field that I don’t think my head stopped shaking in disapproval the entire rest of the picture. Not only does it not gel with anything that transpired before, it doesn’t even gel with its own damn self. It sets off yet another (thankfully brief) string of instances that bear very little relation to one another until credits roll. And why the hell did they bother digging up Nick Mancuso for a pointless part towards the end? His very presence screams “Please ridicule this project” each and every time he’s onscreen.
BEAR ONE IMPORTANT DETAIL IN MIND, FRIENDS. The screener I viewed is reportedly an earlier, unfinished cut that isn’t meant for public display. Hence, why I’ve let a few glaring technical difficulties (visible wire, soundtrack glitches) slide here. The completed product is entitled “Entity,” and could perhaps be enough of an improvement upon “Darkening” to render this entire review moot and a waste of precious holiday time for all involved. Of note as well is that Yurinko shows promise behind the camera, staging a couple of moments (most notably the dog attack and a floating scene) that could have easily elicited chuckles in less assured hands.
Unless it received a complete overhaul from one title to the next, however, his screenplay remains an indecipherable mess and sinks the enterprise before it’s out of the harbor. With a premise often passed over by genre aficionados, a dude wrestling invisible demons throughout a bland interior isn’t going to cut it. The best advice one could give this upcoming film maker is to hire a writer with a clear vision. Or, find a collaborator. At the very least, get yourself a proofreader who isn’t kissing ass for an Associate Producer credit.
Who knows? Everything discussed here might have been achieved in the final editing process, and “Entity” is a quiet corker worthy of widespread attention. As it stands, “The Darkening” certainly is not.