Hard times have fallen upon the Richards, Liz and Ben. A miscarriage, dwindling bank accounts topped off with financial and emotional insecurity threaten to drive a wedge in marital bliss. Liz (Emily Baxter) reluctantly agrees to take a questionable modelling job. Once in the confines of a late night photo session on the outskirts of any rural town she fears for her life. Trapped in the basement of her photographer she struggles to stay alive while her husband Ben races against time and the odds before she becomes the artist’s next macabre masterpiece.
Directed By: Steve Laurence
Starring: Emily Baxter, Martin Laurence, Ryan Elliott, Adrian Annis, Rob Maloney
There’s little to no room for argument that director Steve Laurence’s vision in Art of Darkness possessed all the right components for a runaway horror hit. Set in a dark, foreboding atmosphere with an eerie undertone of drenching insanity accented with chilling orchestral music with desperate circumstances leading an attractive cast it seemed like nothing could go wrong from an audience appreciation perspective. A creepy killer, creative death scenes and a haunting motive somehow were not enough to fully execute a truly memorable terror tryst. Somewhere along the line the acting simply lacked conviction, particularly the detective and a great deal of dialogue that unfolds between Ben and his best mate Nick. It comes across as awkward and clumsy much to the disdain of the audience. Regrettably more frustration is conjured than genuine unease or investment into the story.
The British has done well throughout history staking its international claim with certifiable horror. Anything from Hammer Films, When The Lights Went Out, Truth Or Die, Shaun of The Dead and Hellraiser or just to name a few. Perhaps the production team would be best advised to take a page from any of these masters in terror and run with it. All of the key variables to a successful scream feast are in place, it’s simply the delivery that lacked conviction.
The plot design from writers Ben Cannell, Martin Laurence (not to be confused with the African American actor, although his participation would certainly be interesting), Steve Laurence and Ben-Loyd Holmes, is convincing enough. While Liz is clamoring to save her marriage and Ben is slowly spiralling into despair we cannot help but feel for the couple and relate to their plight on a subconscious level. We route for their collective success on a subconscious level despite their poor choices. It’s only natural to want to see the protagonists prevail where in certain situations we may have failed.
A captive pretense is extraordinary in rising tension and playing on the audiences’ level of unease. We can virtually feel our pulse rise at the pending fate that lies before poor Emily. The obstacles that lie before Ben en route to saving his beloved only contribute to a high octane, angst riddled thriller.
Use of cinematography techniques as shown in the opening chase sequence are captivating and enhance the viewers’ believability factor. The grainy footage of Philip, the photographer’s security camera also adds an eloquence of suspended unease. We’re suddenly fixated on what happens next despite what our instincts of past history may tell us.
As the plot heightens we’re privy to some symbolism of blood, dismemberment and disembowelment. Without indulging in too many spoilers, I will state that the point of view as illustrated through the killer’s eyes is not for the faint of heart.
Perhaps the one dark horse of performances from the cast should go to Adrian Annis in the role of Willie, the killer’s henchman or sidekick. One cannot help but ponder if perhaps Annis’s role was more intense if in fact we’d have a more cohesive product in the long run. His slippery demeanor and sociopathic tendencies will prey into your subconscious long after the final credits have rolled.
There are some refreshing, interesting plot twists along the way. We’re suspect that perhaps Nick is anything but Ben’s best mate and we vie to peel back the layers of psychological Tom Foolery to determine what exactly his motives are.
Some effective conflict escalation ensues followed up with some noteworthy inner resolution on the part of Liz. Her stereotypical helpless female façade is shattered and morphs into a strong willed, resilient woman and the end result is not only psychologically but esthetically pleasing. I’m sure this will transpose unto a vast audience.
The climax was a little uninspired and arguably predictable. Many horror aficionados would likely expect something more in their final showdown and something a little out of the norm for a homicidal, deranged maniac hell bent for blood.
-Two out of five tombstones