DARKNESS, directed by Emanuela Rossi, is interesting at times, visually arresting, but falters with a common story that has too much predictability and not enough unique qualities to stand out. That’s not to say it’s not worth a viewing but don’t expect more than what is given.
Synopsis: A young girl named Stella lives with her father and two younger sisters in isolation because of a solar explosion and the father says it’s only safe for men to venture out.
While the middle child, Luce (Gaia Bocci), is vocal about her desire to venture outside, Stella (Denise Tantucci) is the one who recalls a time when she did go outside without a problem. But now, with two-thirds of the population wiped out, according to their father (Valerio Binasco), they are trapped in darkness. The large mansion they reside in, a prison with wood sealed windows and plastic curtains everywhere to keep the outside out.
We’re shown early on just how controlling and how important a presence their father has become, as they rush to look presentable and then line up staring at a clock awaiting his return. Because he’s risking it all to bring home sustenance of course. Stella, because according to the father the wife ventured outside and died, is now a mother to both her sisters, feeding them, recording their height, etc.
It’s the latter that increases tension in the film, as Stella informs her father Luce isn’t growing up and he, naturally, doesn’t believe it. There is a peculiarity in the relationship between Stella, Luce, and the father and, even to the untrained, it’s clear there’s a motivation for Stella to go to great lengths to keep Luce a child.
There are questions we have in the beginning; however, even the initial notion that only big strapping men can handle the sun, or that their mom ventured out and was killed by it, seems ludicrous. What we’re waiting for is the motivation behind the lie and to learn whether any of the children will venture out to see for themselves. When the father doesn’t return one night, they are left to decide: starve or go out to get food. Since Stella is the queen of the house, she opts to go out.
In the end, as everything unfolds, there are little to no surprises. There have been films about isolation, the world ending, and controlling families or groups wishing to keep their community isolated and separate. Still, the acting was good, especially from Denise Tantucci and Gaia Bocci. Particularly Denise, as the film seemed to rely heavily on her and her silent expressions to carry the film.
What works for the film is, visually, it looks good. Directed by Emanuela Rossi and cinematography by Marco Graziaplena make sure there is beauty here. The artwork between each chapter is unique and refreshing, giving their lives and circumstances a storybook quality—of the cautionary tale variety. The costume design is a hodgepodge of styles, which is the same with the music; a mixture of classical, 70s, and present day. The two oldest girls even watch and work out to VHS aerobics tapes to stay in shape. One of the most interesting parts was trying to ascertain the when of this supposed world-ending event.
While visually arresting at times and musically unnerving at others, there’s little beyond it that elevates the film to greater heights. Too many films dealing with controlling people and fake world-ending events have come before it and the film doesn’t surpass them. DARKNESS isn’t the worst, but it’s not the best either. But if you’re a fan of drama, mysteries of this nature, there’s no reason not to add this to the collection.
DARKNESS had its US Premiere at NIGHTSTREAM.