Oh, the found footage movie. It has become a rather divisive topic among filmmakers and movie goers alike.
In 1999, The Blair Witch Project was revolutionary. The low cost and high return from a movie produced this way ensured that many imitators followed…. so many it was scary.
Then, in 2008, Cloverfield revitalized this sub-genre by delivering top quality production values and visual effects.
But now in 2018, things like Paranormal Activity 4, the Blair Witch reboot and spoofs such as Paranormal Parody and Paranormal Whacktivity have left a bad taste in our collective mouths.
That is why I treaded lightly with the recent found footage movie Darkness Reigns, then was pleasantly surprised with its strong production value and well paced story.
Darkness Reigns follows Zachary Mooren (Aquarius, Black Dog, Red Dog) as Daniel, a young aspiring filmmaker who is a cameraman hired to document the set of a horror film, which suddenly becomes terrorized by a demonic force.
Because found footage horror has been done to death, this plot is nothing new. If you are looking for originality, Darkness Reigns is not the one.
However, Darkness Reigns gives you chilling scares and everything you could want out of this premise. Case in point, we get to see actor Casper Van Dien play himself, more on that later.
You will find yourself bravely looking into the corners of the frame to deaden the shock of the next surprise. If you blink, you might miss it.
This movie truly delivers intense scenes that employ different techniques, jump scares, chilling suspense and nightmarish visuals, genre fan dreams are made of these. The well crafted first person perspective immerses you into the Horror.
The movie was written and directed by Andrew P. Jones, who was Emmy Nominated for his work on the Naked and Afraid TV show.
The direction, camera work and sound design all work together to create a quality experience. The special effects were headed up by Mike Strain Jr. who has reputable credits in that field including You’re Next and V/H/S. In true indie fashion, Mike Strain Jr. is also a producer on Darkness Reigns.
There is not much gore in this, but enough to raise an eyebrow or two. One scene in particular has the kind of special effects that is sure to make your date squirm (or grab your arm, depending on your preference.)
The visual effects of Darkness Reigns are equally proficient. Shaun O’Steen is credited with the visual effects and he is connected to the film’s Director because he also worked on the visuals for Naked and Afraid.
In some cases the visual effects are subtle, often they are the centerpiece of key scenes. The visuals here work wonders in supporting the supernatural storyline.
Take a look at the trailer of Darkness Reigns for a glimpse at some of these truly spectacular moments.
Back to how Darkness Reigns fully capitalized on its subject matter. Say it with me, Casper Van Dien is the man! The movie within the movie is called Defanatus Soul, and Casper Van Dien is the “get” in casting as one of the actors playing a producer explains in the movie.
As an indie filmmaker myself, these behind the scenes elements were fun, hit close to home and are very accurate. Casper plays a version of himself that lives up to what your hopes for that would be.
Casper Van Dien gives a bold performance which is free from vanity. Like many other elements of this movie, they have fun with it. This is pure speculation on my part but I have a feeling they had Casper on set for one day and shot all of his scenes then.
In either case, they made great use of him as an actor and spread his scenes throughout the run time nicely.
Rounding out the cast of characters who are fighting to survive this hellacious day on set, is Peter Mayer who plays Sidney. This was an interesting character, Sidney is a supernatural guru who the production has hired to be a creative consultant.
Of course, the handful of survivors are looking to Sidney for answers when the spirits hit the fan. Because the movie they are shooting is a ghost story, the crew proudly states that they are filming inside a hotel that has a reputation for being haunted.
“This will be great for publicity” they said, which is one of the most believable reasons why a bunch of people would go into a haunted location that I have seen in any of these movies.
In one clever bit of writing, a major special effects element is foreshadowed early on when the documentary crew visits the on set SFX artist.
In closing, as someone who is sick of found footage movies, Darkness Reigns is one I recommend. As long as you like horror or supernatural thrillers, this is one to see.
The writing is good not great, but the fun moments and overall quality more than make up for it. And do I need to remind you that Casper Van Dien plays himself and takes it to surprising lengths! (As in the famous bug slayer “Johnny Rico” Casper Van Dien.)
The Casper factor alone should be enough to see Darkness Reigns. The movie comes out on VOD through Wild Eye Releasing on July 10. Cut, and print that.
Curt Wiser does not just write movie reviews, he wrote and directed the suspense movie Cam-Girl. He tries to be great at what he does, he’s no Casper Van Dien…. but then, who is? When Casper Van Dien does a push up, the Earth shifts downward.