When you’re dealing in archetypal horror, you can deal with the use of familiar elements in a couple of ways. You can try to find fresh variations on those elements, you can crossbreed them with elements from another genre or you can just throw various genre elements together in a pile, hoping that the friction of that throwing-together process produces some fresh creative sparks.
The last of those choices is what Deep In The Darkness goes for: the results are seldom dull but that hoped-for creative spark never kicks in. Instead, you get a mixed set of mismatched tropes that never quite fit together.
Deep In The Darkness begins with Dr. Michael Cayle (Sean Patrick Thomas), the archetypal city guy who wants to ditch the rat race for peaceful country living, buying a great house that becomes available with suspicious ease. Even better, he also picks up the town doctor gig of the vacating tenant and moves his wife Cristine (Kristen Bush) and daughter Jessica (Athena Grant) into the new house.
He quickly realizes his bargain isn’t what he hoped for when all the townfolk act weird, his wife becomes distant after falling under the influence of town matron Lady Zellis (Blanche Baker) and his neighbor Phil (Dean Stockwell) warns him that life in this peaceful burg comes with a nasty price that involves ritual sacrifices and a race of inhuman beings. Cue a barrage of dream sequences, paranoid interactions with townies and plenty of monster attacks.
Deep In The Darkness was produced by the Chiller Network and is weirdly ambitious for a cable t.v. movie. It’s the work of director Colin Theys and screenwriter John Doolan, who adapted this from a Michael Laimo novel. The results are more atmospheric and free of the jokey fanboy humor that marred their earlier efforts Alien Opponent and Remains.
Unfortunately, what they produce is a budget-priced rehash of concepts and tropes you’ve seen in other, more skillfully realized films: there’s the house with a secret, the seemingly peaceful town full of closet weirdos, the family that finds terror instead of comfort in the country, etc. It feels like someone threw The Wicker Man, a few H.P. Lovecraft tales and a monsters-in-the-woods flick into a blender and hit purée. After a reasonably well-paced first act, the script gets chaotic and more incoherent as it goes along — and when the monsters pop up, their design and behavior is more silly than scary.
As for the direction, Deep In The Darkness looks nice thanks to skillfully composed ‘scope-format cinematography but Theys has trouble with pacing, particularly once the script starts piling on the familiar horror tropes, and the staging of the setpieces is often too hectic to make the horror content stick. The cast tries hard, with old pro Stockwell faring the best, but the all-too-familiar and thinly drawn characterizations work against their earnest efforts.
In short, Deep In The Darkness is technically competent but falls down in terms of vison. The collision of elements from different areas of the horror genre have a little interest at the start but the filmmakers never find a fresh angle on any of them and can’t quite make them cohere into a memorable film.
Blu-Ray Notes: Scream Factory recently issued this title in blu-ray form. The transfer does well by the film’s muted color schemes and crisp digital photography and the 5.1 stereo mix gets plenty of oomph from its lossless presentation. Extras are limited to a trailer, a couple of clever teaser spots and series of brief EPK-style clips that mix footage from the film with sound-bites from the cast and crew.