Darkness Falls is a terrible title for a ghost story set in a town called Darkness Falls. It’s an even worse title for this, a gritty police procedural that features the reliably brilliant Shawn Ashmore as a bereaved widower who’s convinced his wife’s suicide was actually a murder, and sets out to ruin his career by proving the father-son duo responsible have been killing women without leaving a shred of evidence behind for years. If that sounds like a convoluted setup, strap in, because we’re just getting started.
It’s rare that a film’s score is too much from its opening few minutes, and yet that is the case with Darkness Falls. Sacha Chaban’s music is so honking, so over the top, so unbelievably LOUD that it drowns out everything else that’s happening onscreen. The score is also omnipresent, even when Ashmore is doing something as simple as sitting in his car during a stakeout. One could argue it’s like a character in itself, but that would be giving this bizarrely misjudged, completely incompetent movie too much credit.
Every decision is the wrong one, from the title blasting onto the screen before the overly long prologue, which involves the aforementioned murderers — neither of whom are wearing masks or anything else to disguise their identities — killing Ashmore’s character’s wife, via some dodgy looking wrist cutting (it’s basically bad animation, almost like clip art). Maybe if the woman in question was a stronger actor, we’d care about her fate. As it stands, she simply doesn’t perish quickly enough. Much of the action here is inexplicably photographed through a doorway, too, hinting at many of the odd filmmaking choices to come.
The setup takes forever and is not in the least bit compelling or original. Soon after, Ashmore sells the hell out of finding the body, leading me to wish the whole film was just his reactions to what’s going on around him, rather than the terrible footage we’re given of the events themselves. Elsewhere, the classic walk-and-exposition dump naturally takes place, during which we learn the captain is retiring soon and he recently ignored our hero’s request for…something. That bastard!
This isn’t the best time for a pro-police movie but, even if what was happening with cops on a worldwide scale wasn’t currently in the forefront of our minds, and clogging up our feeds on a daily basis, Darkness Falls would read as way too sympathetic to a wayward officer going off the rails and destroying his career to catch the bad guys (and, naturally, emerging victorious, which isn’t a spoiler if you’ve ever seen a movie before). It doesn’t help that the character’s name is JEFF ANDERSON. To put it very simply, Jeff Anderson is a bad cop and if he wasn’t played by Shawn Ashmore, we wouldn’t be rooting for him at all.
Weirdly, everyone around Jeff is unsympathetic to him having recently lost his wife, including his own mother, who’s played by the always welcome Lin Shaye. She’s looking after Jeff’s young son in his absence, but comes down pretty hard on him for, I dunno, not getting over his wife’s death quickly enough? Likewise, Jeff’s ex-partner, who’s now the police chief because he lost that job due to, again, not being able to get over his grief expeditely (does he not even get any kind of compassionate leave!?) stonewalls him at every turn. “They call you the suicide guy, Jeff” she tells him sternly after Anderson has shown up at one too many crime scenes.
That’s the other thing about Darkness Falls; the script, credited to Giles Daoust, is complete garbage. Ashmore and Shaye do their best with it, but they’re so above this kind of material it’s almost painful watching them do such good work in spite of everything working against them. In fact, it’d be much more pleasurable watching them just sitting on a bench and chatting rather than anything else that happens here. Aside from the killers’ M.O., which makes absolutely no sense and works even less once their backstory is fleshed out, everything in Darkness Falls is cliche, derivative, or downright nuts. And not in an entertaining way, either.
Does Anderson create a murder wall? Yes. Does he trash it in anger over the lack of support from his higher ups? Of course. Does he push many things off many desks in frustration over the course of the movie? You bet. Every cliche you can imagine from a cop movie is present and accounted for, often accompanied by The Room-level histrionics (there’s genuinely a moment to rival the iconic “I don’t have five F*****G minutes” roof encounter here). It’s kind of amazing Anderson doesn’t get suspended, but maybe that, in itself, is a comment on how cops get away with literal murder. Or, again, maybe I’m being too fair.
Ashmore is terrific in everything, even the risible police procedural/serial killer show The Following (“Hello Ryan”), which had kind of a similar setup except he was an underling and has now graduated to detective. The film is only mildly watchable because of the charismatic Canadian and his impressive beard. It’s insanely muddled, fake woke, and makes little to no sense. The over-use of the term “prominent women,” for example, suggests Darkness Falls was written by someone who’s never met a woman, let alone asked her any questions about herself or her experience in life.
Everything is overwrought to the point of teeth-grinding, headache-inducing madness. There’s stock footage of mountains at one point, overlaid over a fairly important conversation between two characters. None of the filmmaking choices make any sense, particularly the decision to frame a fistfight in the background of the scene while the camera focuses on a closed trunk. There’s a massive, distracting tower of books at one of the crime scenes that easily could’ve been moved out of shot. In fact, every property featured in Darkness Falls is distractingly off in some way, the set dressing leaving an awful lot to be desired. At one point, Anderson is shot facing the camera, turning around, and then facing himself again. It’s genuinely baffling at times.
Think of modern, L.A.-set crime movies like Destroyer or Nightcrawler. Now think about everything that made those movies so great, from the cinematography to the performances to the strength of their premises, which are totally different but boast many of the same key elements that make them work. Darkness Falls is so terrible in comparison, it makes Den of Thieves look like a strong Los Angeles police procedural, and Gerry Butler’s disgraced cop a better officer. Maybe French filmmaker Julien Seri doesn’t have a strong enough grasp of the material, or the setting, to make it sing, but the disconnect here is a yawning void loaded with the most bizarre stuff.
What happened to Ashmore’s career that he has to agree to take roles like this? Or Shaye’s, for that matter? It’s entirely possible the premise for Darkness Falls looked better on paper but, even so, it’s difficult to imagine how this could’ve possibly turned out any better. The attempt at a feelgood ending, particularly considering what happens to the movie’s only prominent (there’s that word again) female character, is laughable at best, offensive at worst. Darkness Falls is like if a bot wrote a cop thriller, only even less entertaining because reading it in a little Twitter thread would be much quicker than enduring this dross, which takes 84 minutes(!) off your life.
Catch Darkness Falls on VOD and Digital from June 12, 2020
WICKED RATING: 2/10
Director(s): Julien Seri
Writer(s): Giles Daoust
Stars: Shawn Ashmore, Lin Shaye, Gary Cole
Release date: June 12, 2020 (VOD and Digital)
Studio/Production Company: Koji Productions
Run Time: 84 minutes