REVIEW – Darkroom (2013)
Produced by: Britt Napier, Ron Stein
Written by: Michaelbrent Collings
Edited by: David Leonard, Jim Mol
Cinematography by: Frederic Fasano
Music by: Anthony Lledo
Starring: Kaylee DeFer, Elisabeth Röhm, Christian Campbell, Tobias Segal, Geneva Carr, Britne Oldford, Natalie Knepp
Alright, so let’s get this point out of the way before I begin discussing this movie: Yes, I went to school with the star of this movie. I did not, however, know her very well, and I didn’t even have many of the same classes as her during the time she was there, and so I am in no way claiming to know intimate knowledge – and, even if I did, I wouldn’t divulge, because I am not writing for a gossip rag, and I am not a shitty person. That being said, it’s still kind of weird knowing that I very briefly crossed paths with someone in such a tiny school (43 people or so in my graduating class – she moved halfway through high school, so there’s that, too) who went on to be a recognizable actress. Not the biggest, mind you, but she had a prominent enough role in Gossip Girl for a couple seasons (I didn’t watch it, but I know I’m not the only person who watches things), and she once played Michael Rappaport’s daughter in a shortlived Fox sitcom called The War at Home, wherein she kissed Seth MacFarlane. He apparently remembered her well enough to invite her to do some voice acting on Family Guy. Heck, she was even one half of an actually crucial puzzle piece in Ted meeting the mother on How I Met Your Mother. That’s not unimpressive at all! So, yeah, there are people who will point at her and say, “I recognize her!” and so it’s still a noteworthy anecdote from my life (and anyone’s lives, really, from our class), especially considering that I once briefly played one of the gravediggers from Romeo and Juliet alongside her in our freshman year of high school for a school assignment – during which I cut my hand pretty badly on the jagged metal pipe I was using as a prop shovel. No wonder which one of us went on to act for a living and which went on to merely talk about people acting… for a hobby.
I will say that I never would’ve even considered watching this movie had it not been for the recognizable face, though. It was, again, very surreal seeing someone I had personally interacted with on the artwork of something that randomly showed up as a suggestion while mindlessly browsing the Netflix catalog. I actually watched this a couple years ago and had intended on rewatching it last year in order to actually follow the story and not get distracted by the novelty factor aspect. I never got around to it, but I did this year, finally. So, I guess the only question is, is the movie any good? … Well, n… no… It’s really not.
Kaylee here plays Michelle, a troubled young woman who, one drunken night, gets into a car accident that kills all her friends, leaving her the sole survivor. Sent to an institution for counselling, she’s reluctant to participate in the program but grows tired of trying to prove she’s ready to move on. And so her counselor reluctantly provides her with a job opportunity in modeling. Should she take it, perhaps she could prove that she’s ready to be a functional member of society again. Naturally, the job turns out to be more than Michelle bargained for, as she’s taken hostage by religious zealots who believe that people must purge the sin from their lives – through torture.
… Yeah, the plot isn’t especially interesting. The film is essentially about Michelle attempting to escape and slowly finding out the reasons behind her imprisonment, particularly the disturbing origin of her captors’ beliefs. Here and there, we also get flashbacks that provide glimpses to the times that led up to the accident and during Michelle’s time in rehab afterward. This kind of plot device isn’t actually a bad idea, considering that these filmmakers don’t seem to be as capable of handling such a linear and cramped horror thriller as, say, the filmmakers behind 10 Cloverfield Lane from earlier this year. The flashbacks should provide some nuance to the events in the present, but, really, the rehab center ones only wind up reminding us how disappointing and predictable the surprise revelations turn out to be, and the ones taking us back to Michelle’s pampered and dramatic life prior to all this feel more like explanations for why things happened, rather than serve to inform us of what it all meant to Michelle before she lost it all – and it wasn’t even really a happy life with those people, it seems, so it’s almost as if we need further background for any sort of regret Michelle must be feeling, too, but we don’t get it. The closest it gets is one of her friends getting in a few last words with Michelle before dying, but it’s only to tell her to save herself. We still have no idea how close these two were, even though she makes a posthumous reappearance in a vision. Perhaps she was just the only actor available for the post-wreck makeup effects?
As for the acting, well… let’s just say that I’m certain everyone here has probably done better, and I most definitely blame the script and direction for most of the issues in this area. Elisabeth Röhm and Christian Campbell are saddled with roles that force them to be ludicrously blunt with disgust and contempt. They have to say lines like, “We have to purge your sins” while brandishing blunt instruments and, “Tsk tsk. The Lord hates a crude tongue,” without a hint of irony or hammy overacting, which might’ve saved this movie from being as bland as it is. That they could deliver these and other lines so straightfaced is a testament enough to their potential. Tobias Segal also plays a mentally tortured and the more empathetic of the three villains, though it’s hard to gauge when Segal’s playing him as a poor soul acting on the whims of his more dominant counterparts and when he’s playing a deranged psycho who could go off at any moment. It’s inconsistent, but at least you’re able to guess at something throughout the film to keep your mind preoccupied.
And then, of course, there’s Kaylee’s performance. Apart from her first big role in The War at Home, which I watched only up to a certain point before dropping the show entirely (as did the rest of America – it just wasn’t that good), I’d never seen any of her work prior, but I understand that, for example, critics and fans alike really liked her character on Gossip Girl. I looked up a few clips, and while it’s not my type of show, she seems to be just fine (it’s hard to figure out based on a few clips posted to YouTube). So, again, I have to blame the stilted performance here on the filmmaking. As with the villains, Michelle is a character that has about two notes that she plays throughout the film, and that’s moping about her past and screaming insults at her captors – often through walls. She’s not allowed to go big and dramatic here – just say the lines in vaguely appropriate tones, as if the director thought the content of the script was enough to make the audience feel the emotions. I’ll give her credit for her facial acting, however, which seems to suggest she was trying to go for more subtle ways of giving this character life than she was afforded. Like the others, she’s trying for something, at the very least, but it’s nowhere near enough to overcome the film’s fatal flaws: boring and predictable plotting and a significant lack of intrigue that, when it all comes down to it, leaves each character in the same place as they were in the very beginning – and not in an artistically intended way, either.
The film is an idea without thought, and rarely, if ever, does it aspire to be more than your typical Saw sequel-era creepy captor horror thriller – and it doesn’t even have the intrigue of elaborately rendered gore that those movies have, unless you consider a character mindlessly poking a drill into a halfway obscured dead body to be especially cringe-worthy. While the use of flashbacks is admirable in their attempts to give a little variety in the plot and scenery, all of the scenes in the movie basically operate on the same level as the others, resulting in the film feeling like a mundane droning noise that sporadically wavering and reverting quickly to numbing your mind. I can only imagine how much worse this movie must be for those who can’t even rely upon the novelty factor of watching a former, barely known classmate to fall back on. As a result, I obviously cannot recommend this movie more – because there’s honestly nothing to recommend it for in the first place. It’s a terribly directed, lifeless, pointless movie that can’t even be entertaining in a “so bad it’s good” way. If you feel anything other than boredom or frustration while trying to endure this, it’ll most likely end up being sympathy for the actors for having signed on to this film in the first place. And probably for yourself for having believed you were deserving of such a harsh punishment.
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 0.5 / 5