Saturday 3 June 2023

Shudder Saturday: Darklands (1996)

It's pure coincidence that I have watched two films by director Julian Richards this week, but I can tell you with great confidence that neither of them are his best. Maybe one day I will revisit The Last Horror Movie and give him some positive words here, but I'm not going to bump it up the long list of viewing choices after suffering through this.

Darklands is bad. It's very bad. It's the sort of film that is so bad that you wonder who they convinced to offer up some flattering quotes for the marketing materials. I am going to assume that the person who said this was "Rosemary's Baby meets The Wicker Man" had their words taken out of context, because this comes nowhere near to the chills and greatness of those two genre behemoths.

Craig Fairbrass plays a newspaper reporter named Frazer Truick, the kind of guy who won't let a story go once he has the smallest bit of it between his teeth, even if the end result could land him in hot water. He ends up meeting Rachel Morris (Rowena King), a young woman who gets to spend some time with him while he's working on his latest story. The pair soon get a bit closer, but Truick then starts to realise that the story he's working on is one part of a much bigger picture. And he might be right in the middle of it.

Co-written by Richards and David Mitchell, I will try to be kind and say that Darklands has one or two moments in which it feels like it is trying to break out of the confines of low-budget British horror. It never stops feeling like exactly what it is though, a debut film lucky enough to land a decent star name it doesn't know how to use, and I will offer a small cash reward to anyone who can manage to watch this and keep caring about the plot for more than half the runtime.* There aren't any decent set-pieces, sadly, and that leaves you watching a film that feels made up of the lesser, non-scary, storylines from a story written by someone like James Herbert or Shaun Hutson. The fact that I enjoy both of those authors means that I didn't ever completely hate this, but it came very close at times.

There are a few other key players in the cast, mainly Jon Finch trying to use his limited screentime to overcome the poor script he has to work with, but it's only Fairbrass and King who feel like they're close to being characters worth spending time with. They're not well-developed, both being a walking mess of tropes and cliches, but they gamely power through the film, and it's always good to see Fairbrass try to do something that doesn't have him pigeonholed as someone ready to carry a film like Rise Of The Footsoldier 16: Ahm The Fackin' Drug Daddy Nah (I've tried to write that phonetically to make my point). Fairbrass feels like a good fit for the role, deserving of some better writing, while King feels far too good for her part, especially by the time annoying twists and turns start to come along in the second half.

This isn't one to waste your time with, especially when every aspect of it can be found in much better movies. Just ask me when you're in the mood for certain elements, be it some folk horror, a crime investigation tale, or some dangerous cult plans, and I'll point you towards one or two choices that you will enjoy more.

*I won't, but you will have earned my bemused and begrudged admiration.


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