Like most independent horror films out there that are fighting for their chance, I had no knowledge of The Darkness Within until it showed up over at Planet of Terror - the place where independent horror films come to light. Thanks to a giveaway on that site via the illustrious Cortez the Killer, a copy made its way to my doorstep and I sat down with the film by writer/director/editor Dom Portalla.
The Darkness Within starts off by introducing us to a happy young couple, Chad and Ashley, who are starting a new life in a new town. They seem to be very in love with each other and don't have a care in the world - except that Ashley is terrified of spiders and Chad thinks the neighbor is spying on them. The neighbor, played by Ken Flott quickly dismisses any concerns Chad has, and his young landlady and her friend with benefits - a couple of foul-mouthed, pot-smoking gamers - don't see anything strange going on either. Chad becomes increasingly frustrated with his escalating predicament, and the film builds tension through his reaction to the predicament. Is there someone watching him, or are there bigger demons that go bump in Chad's night?
The cast primarily consists of inexperienced young talent, but I found myself pretty pleased with them across the board. They know this isn't Shakespeare, and these actors and actresses do a fine job of presenting realistic dialogue that helps the film seem authentic. I was especially fond of Stephanie Maheu as the foul-mouthed young landlady who, along with Sean Pierce as her cohort, did what was necessary to present all of the improper traits you'd expect from modern youngsters who don't bother being politically correct. I've dealt with plenty of imbeciles professionally, and these two hit the spot in that regard. Michelle Romano, as Ashley, seems to be forcing a little in the early scenes of the film, but by the end of the film her performance turned around quite nicely. A similar commentary could be made regarding Jimmy Scanlon, who leads the film as Chad. Both characters don't seem quite right in the early going, but as the plot unfolds the doubts I had about their performances began to make sense. Like many horror films of late - the Paranormal Activity films come to mind - the twists in the plot change our perspective regarding the characters. In this case, I found myself recognizing a lot of the things that made sense about these performances as the credits rolled.
It's obvious that Portalla put this film together on the cheap (the sound quality of the film makes this very evident, but is a small price to pay for what the rest of the film has to offer), but it's easy to see that he knows his way around the camera. While a lot of independent filmmakers settle into certain angles from which they'll always shoot certain areas, Portalla keeps the view fresh and changes the angle of view often, which is necessary for a film which wants to keep us considering the psyche of its characters. The film is edited well, running briskly through 90 minutes of screen-time with little filler. I already mentioned the everyday realism of the dialogue, but it bears repeating that Portalla has created a world that a viewer should easily relate to.
As the plot twists and turns to the finale, there might be some moments of disdain from the trained viewer, and I could see where one would think that it tries too hard to get an extra twist or two in. But after some thought, I'm pretty content with what Portalla was selling. I don't think the film treads a lot of new ground, and it's prone to the same traps that most independent films fall into, but there's something really endearing about it. This is a bold piece of independent filmmaking that succeeds within its resources and provides solid entertainment. Portalla and crew know how to tell a story and make it memorable, which means The Darkness Within should keep you thinking long after the finale.
In a bold move, the final scene ties us into two of the greatest chillers ever made - but I think that confidence fits the film and its crew perfectly. The Darkness Within is a horror film with heart; the kind whose creators must have always known where they were going with their project. I'm glad I was here to find it, and definitely recommend it.
If you want more info on The Darkness Within, check out Portalla's company's website, Door Eleven Productions - where you'll find more info on how you can see the film and the people behind it!