[Popcorn Frights Fest Review] DARK WINDOWS

This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, films like DARK WINDOWS being covered here wouldn’t exist.

Films revolving around a killer quietly stalking and killing their youthful victims serves as a central storyline in horror films. While these stories may seem overdone, fans of the genre (particularly, the slasher subgenre) enjoy these stories for their simplicity. The hunting of the characters as they die one by one, and the eventual reveal of the sharp-weapon-wielding killer creates a predictable but still enjoyable ride. However, even with a very formulaic and easy guide to slasher films, some movies still struggle to meet even these tried and true standards. Director Alex Herron and screenwriter Ulvrik Kraft create a kind of I Know What You Did Last Summer kind of mystery with a cabin in the woods vibe with DARK WINDOWS. Despite DARK WINDOWS having all of the great foundations for a fun horror film, the story and characters offer very little in terms of creativity or suspense.

In the opening minutes of DARK WINDOWS, the terrified Tilly (Anna Bullard) hides in a ramshackle cabin as an unseen man tries to break down the door. She pleads with a 911 operator to save her, but the pounding only intensifies. The attacker and the events leading up to this night slowly become revealed over the duration of the movie as the story then flashes back to a few days prior. The story actually starts when Tilly and several of her friends attend the funeral of their friend Ally. Everyone painfully mourns the loss of someone so young, but a lot of the emotions turn to aggression and become aimed at Tilly. Through some flashbacks we learn because of a string of bad decisions, Tilly actually caused Ally’s death.

After the funeral, the three survivors of the car crash decide to take some time for themselves and head to a cabin. Each of the friends grieve in their own way which causes tension among them. Monica (Annie Hamilton) wants to just move on, Peter (Rory Alexander) wants to tell jokes and drink himself into oblivion, but Tilly can only feel sadness. As the friends deal with the massive number of emotions enveloping them, the director lets us know through voyeuristic camera shots someone is watching them.

During quiet moments such as looking at a phone, sitting in a car, or blowing out candles, Herron uses long shots to convey the feeling the friends are being hunted. And even though the cast remains very small, it is hard to feel invested in the three leads. The lack of sympathy for the character does not come from the actors but from the script. Hamilton, Alexander, and Bullard all perform their lines and actions really well, but they have very little to work with to make the characters actually interesting.

The story consists of two mysteries: WHO followed the friends to the cabin? And WHAT happened the night Ally died? The friends only know the latter question, while we the audience know nothing. The set-up offers the potential for a lot of exciting build-up and tension, but the slow pacing creates an almost aggravating lack of pay-off. The audience knows someone else is in the house, but nothing comes of the creepiness until the third act.

DARK WINDOWS takes some time to reach the tension, but once Tilly, Monica, and Peter realize the opened windows, constantly burning candles, and lack of cell reception are all connected, they finally realize they are not alone. Now, caught in a deadly game of cat and mouse, the three friends can no longer outrun their lies. The pursuit and the chase eventually led to a cringe-worthy torture scene, which definitely deserved a larger role in the movie. The killer reveal came as a surprise and the way they demand justice creates a shocking however anti-climatic conclusion.

Overall, the execution of the story limits the tension and action to the final act. So, the film goes out pretty strong, but the reveal is not really worth the journey and I don’t see any rewatchability with DARK WINDOWS.

DARK WINDOWS played at the 2023 Popcorn Frights Festival. It is also now available in select theaters and On Demand.

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