"Darkest Night" has its roots in horror styles and moods from many eastern and western traditions. Filmed in a "found video and documentary" style, "Darkest Night" depicts a family holiday reunion at an isolated home in the Sagada Mountains. The family's celebration is shattered by bizarre, supernatural and tragic terrors no one can explain. This film is a psychological horror story with intense family drama, suspense, action and shock. Written by
An excellent, provocative "found video" horror film
I was fortunate enough to see this film (the final, 97-min. version) at a private screening in KL, Malaysia. Because of the subject matter, it will be impossible to show this film commercially in Malaysia. I'll explain more about this issue later. For now, let me talk about the movie itself.
The premise of the film is that a Filipino news reporter discovers a videotape at what's left of an old house. The family that owned the place disappeared mysteriously on Dec. 25, 2003, leaving their house in ruins. However, in 2010 the reporter gets the video and edits it, transforming it into "Darkest Night" as a "documentary." The film purports to tell the story of the family's final night.
First off, let me say that this film delivers the scares enough to make it a satisfying "horror" film. The synopsis on IMDb pretty much says it all. A family gets together in an isolated part of the Philippine mountains, at the home of a wealthy relative, for a Christmas family reunion. Then, everything goes horribly and demonicly wrong. The film contains many things you normally see in a horror film (set in an isolated place, people getting killed one by one, etc.). On the surface it appears to be standard stuff, with a few interesting twists and turns.
What really impressed me was the depth of the film, given its "found video" premise. Most of the characters and family situations are so real as to be disturbing in themselves. There were moments of intense, gut-wrenching family drama, as well as terror, and some excellent commentary on a world-consuming culture where a loving family can disintegrate before the invasion of materialism, technology and TELEVISION.
My second point, as a Malaysian Chinese person, is what the film meant to me personally. Through friends, I heard (and this info is posted on the film's website) that the story is based on a Malaysian "urban legend." According to the story (which cannot be verified because of government censorship), a wealthy Chinese family disappeared mysteriously in the Cameron Highlands during a New Year family celebration on Feb. 1, 2003. The original American producer tried to make the movie in Malaysia based on this story, and he was forced out of the country by government resistance. Was there a cover-up? Nobody in Malaysia knows for sure. Certainly, the Chinese minority in my country are not allowed to know.
Determined to make his film, the producer traveled to the Philippines where there was no such censorship or government sensitivity. So the film was done with a Filipino family on Christmas in the mountains of Luzon, instead of the original Chinese in my country. The film-makers make no claim that the film is "based on a true story." That will probably never be proved one way or another. Still, I'm happy, as a Chinese Malaysian, that at least the story can be told, even with Filipino stand-ins. Is it true or just a myth? At least people know the story and can decide for themselves.
OK, for the review part. Unfortunately, the technical elements (sound, lighting, camera work, etc.) of the film leave much to be desired. I suppose the background "music" can be justified by the fact that this is actually a "documentary." Still, this movie is "light years" better than such crap as "Apollo 18," but often I felt the director was just letting the actors go, avoiding lighting and forgetting decent camera work instead of really directing. I assume this was all done in the name of "found video" realism. To me, it was often found video bothersome. Still, I saw "Paranormal 3" and felt the opposite, like there was an entire crew and host of professionals behind the too-nicely constructed scenes, instead of just a "found video." I found it way too over- produced to be believable. So I guess people can make arguments either way depending on personal tastes.
The acting and writing in "Darkest Night" are superb. What I found most riveting were the actors and the story. Nic Campos was simply amazing as a tragic family member trapped in a hell mostly of his own making. The "star," DJ Perry did well enough, playing the "American anchor" of the film (probably to ensure North American distribution). Anne Gauthier did a hauntingly beautiful job of acting (she's gorgeous and sexy in her own right) as a classic Gothic protagonist, trapped in a dark situation, trying to escape as everything appears to be coming apart around her. Some of the minor characters seemed a bit wooden at times, but ALL the major actors were top-rate.
So, in spite of all the film's obvious short-comings, if anything, it shows how a good story and excellent actors can trump almost any kind of "technical" short-comings. People from everywhere will enjoy this film, including Filipinos and Americans of course. But I urge all Malaysian Chinese or non-Chinese people to see it any way you can. You may be getting in on inexplicable events our government simply does not want us to know.
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