Written and directed by Tharun Mohan, THE DARKNESS is the London native’s latest feature offering. Blending elements of folk horror with familiar genre staples like creepy old houses and possible possession, it’s a modern ghost story with plenty of old-fashioned touches to keep things interesting. THE DARKNESS stars Amelia Eve of The Haunting of Bly Manor fame alongside a supporting cast that includes Katherine Hartshorne, Cyril Blake, Adam Bond, and John Sugden.
At the center of the story are married couple Lisa (Eve) and David (Blake). Quirky Lisa is a writer looking to start her next novel while cheerful David works on a business project of his own. Both are longing to get in a bit of work while enjoying some time away from home, so they take a trip up to an Irish cottage passed down to David from his grandmother.
At first, David and Lisa are thoroughly enjoying their vacation. The cottage is charming and quiet, partly due to patchy cell phone reception. Lisa and David, deeply in love, also take advantage of every opportunity to bond as a couple. Plus, Lisa eventually makes a creative breakthrough. She comes up with a terrific idea for her new novel after finding a mysterious diary hidden in a trunk up in the attic.
The diary belongs to Niav (Hartshorne), a woman who lived in the cottage roughly a century ago with her own husband, Brian (Bond). The more of the journal Lisa reads, the stranger and darker Niav’s story eventually becomes. Lisa’s obsession with Niav and with the journal continues to intensify until she’s seeing things in the garden and behaving strangely herself. What is the dark secret at the heart of the cottage’s strangeness? Who is Niav really, and how is her fate tied up with Lisa’s? And, most importantly, can David get Lisa the help she needs before it’s too late?
THE DARKNESS really is an old-school ghost story – the kind that brings to mind classic tales like The Turn of the Screw or Wuthering Heights. It lacks a lot of the shock and terror that characterizes most modern horror films about spirits or hauntings for that reason, but that’s also why it works. This film has a certain charm to it that sets it apart and makes it different. Touches like the rural quirkiness of the locals and the romantic nature of the flashbacks into Niav’s storyline keep this interesting, as well as give it a heart.
Mohan’s writing and directing draw you into the story right away. Lisa and David are both incredibly likable, and it’s impossible not to be intrigued by Niav’s backstory. Also, the settings are treats for the eyes. And as the story progresses, it turns out to be packed with plenty of old-fashioned storytelling elements like witchcraft, revenge, long-standing folk rituals, and more.
Of course, THE DARKNESS isn’t perfect by any means. Some of the performances are outstanding, especially Amelia Eve as Lisa. Others leave more to be desired. There are also a few details that don’t quite follow the logic of the world Mohan has crafted for us. For instance, much is said about the horrible cell reception at and near the cottage, yet we frequently see characters duck out of the scene to take incoming calls.
You’re also left feeling like you’d just have liked a bit more from the story. There’s so much of interest to be explored here, but THE DARKNESS only scratches the surface of it during its short runtime. Even so, this is a highly watchable, worthwhile film – especially if you have a soft spot in your heart for low-budget British ghost story movies.
THE DARKNESS is now available on Demand and Digital.