GHOSTS OF DARKNESS
Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Clear Focus Films and Writer/Director, David Ryan Keith (The Redwood Massacre) for allowing me early access to his latest feature-length film “Ghosts Of Darkness”. Ghosts Of Darkness is a Horror film that centers on two paranormal investigators in an old mansion situated in the Scottish countryside. Jack Donavan (played by Michael Koltes from “Capsule”) has made a living from exposing fakes and frauds who claim to posses certain psychic abilities. He receives a business card that eventually leads him to the isolated mansion. Enter Jonathan Blazer (first timer, Paul Flannery) whose also been invited to the house. He’s a well to do Englishmen with a supposed extrasensory gift. Upon meeting a mysterious man (Steve Weston) and agreeing to his proposition, the two investigators agree to be locked in the house for three nights and are to receive compensation upon completing their task. Rumor has it that there’s a 100 year-long mystery surrounding the house, of course the men don’t believe it. Little do they know that deadly secrets will soon be discovered during the course of their stay and they might not make it out alive. The film also stars Lisa Livingstone, Lisa Cameron, Morgan Faith Keith and Cameron Mowat.
It’s been a while since I reviewed Keith’s last film “The Redwood Massacre”, (a Town That Dreaded Sundown esq slasher flick) *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/the-redwood-massacre-review/ but between that and his farfetched debut feature “Attack Of The Herbals”, I’ve been pleasantly surprised. This third film sees his feet still firmly planted in the genre roots, but this time with a focus on the classic paranormal haunting. Right off the bat, kudos have to go to production design, and specifically Lorraine Keith for finding this stunning picturesque location with a gorgeous mansion located amidst it. The structure itself is quintessentially English (or Scottish if we’re being pedantic) and rivals the aesthetics of something like a castle. The audio track is consistent and clear for the entire duration, with Keith managing to avoid some of the usual trappings that befall low-budget and independent films. I like and respect the fact that he doesn’t just make the calls on set, he’s behind the camera shooting everything as well. Cinematography wise, this is probably his best work. There’s some tight early framing in the opening scenes, as well as an effective tracking shot of a young girls movements through the kitchen. Even the countryside establishing shots are alluring. Once the main story begins, Keith opts for a lot of gentle zooming and pulling focus as he utilizes clever closeups and diverse shot choices, each of which are well framed. The film is nicely color graded, albeit plainly and everything is sufficiently lit.
In addition to the high quality production value, Niall Mathewson’s score is quite memorable. The films early scenes consist of a rare combination of violin and what sounds like trumpet, reminding me of the somewhat underrated “Mirror” franchise. It’s an eerie way to open the film given what transpires in the sequence that follows. The remainder of the score is pretty much your conventional mix of bass and cello usually heard in any number of paranormal films but it’s edited well all the same. David’s script reveals a sufficient amount of back story on Jack but sadly doesn’t give quite the same attention to the more interesting of the two in, Mr Blazer. I enjoyed a couple of the inferred nods to the classic, 60’s Polanski film “Rosemary’s Baby” and don’t think I didn’t correlate the beginning with everyone’s arrival at the manor in Jonathan Lynn’s, Mystery/Thriller “Clue”, a film adaption of the popular board game. The dynamic of Koltes and Flannery is what helps slightly elevate Ghosts Of Darkness from the slew of other paranormal chillers out there. Both of the characters are quite likeable and their interactions feel natural. Michael’s been acting for a while now and aside from a slightly inconsistent accent and a few forced emotional moments, he’s solid. It’s really Flannery (a dead ringer for fellow actor, Judd Nelson) who was the surprise packet here. This is his first feature film and he handles it like a true pro. The dialogue delivered confidently, always with what feels like plenty of natural wit. Given its small budget, the makeup effects are respectable and there’s also some practical blood in a couple of sequences.
So it’s a lack of originality that’s always going to be the key issue with a film like Ghosts Of Darkness. Though to be fair, the same could be said about most genre films and especially those in the various sub-genres of Horror (depends on your appetite). It’s perfectly fine for those who know what they want or what they’re getting into, just don’t go thinking it’ll offer up anything new because you’ll be sorely disappointed. Much like in the slasher genre, everything’s just feeling a little played out at this point. Although being a bigger fan of the latter, I can get on board most of the slice and dice pursuits but not so much so with the haunting caper. If you look at pure bang for buck, James Wan is arguably the modern maestro of the paranormal film world. Successful franchises like “The Conjuring” and “Insidious” are going to be near on impossible to top, even more so when you’re only working with an estimated 35,000 pounds. I’m a huge fan of those bigger budget films and so anything else is probably going to pale in comparison, that said, I can still respect it. One can’t deny that budget is a vital part of the end result, but that aside, it all comes down to one simple question in the paranormal universe, Is it scary? Does it maintain a palpable level of suspense? That’s two questions, I know, but still. Keith’s film is crying out for some much-needed tension instead of those telegraphed musical cue edits. Now I don’t think that’s necessarily down to the performances, or even the writing, I think it’s more to do with having seen most of what’s on offer in this context. Ghosts Of Darkness sinks to those familiar tropes that we’ve seen countless times before. Demon taunts that are fueled by people’s past trauma’s, little girls heard laughing and seen running in hallways, entities appearing and disappearing and so it goes. A lack of “paranormal action” (for lack of a better term) causes the film to lag in places, even at just 82 minutes it feels a touch long.
Ghosts Of Darkness isn’t the type of film I’d usually go for. These days I tend to be much more selective when it comes to the paranormal, probably because I already own 150 other films like this that are still wrapped in their plastic! I like what David Ryan Keith is doing as a Horror based filmmaker. I’ve seen all three of his films now and they’re very different to one an other and I can definitely respect that. The setting for Ghost Of Darkness is gorgeous and the house is virtually a character in of itself. The audio track remains the best of any of Keith’s films thus far, and behind the camera he continues to hone his craft, showcasing some of his finest cinematography to date. The color grading, lighting and score are all pretty solid as well. Some of the script specifics were good and the film has its moments. The strongest aspect is the appealing duo of Jack and Jonathan, and in turn the performances by Koltes and Flannery. On the downside, the concept is a tired one and the revelations feel rather stale and hence I was never fully immersed. If I’m gearing up for a straight-laced horror film then I want to be scared and with Ghosts Of Darkness I simply wasn’t. Much like me you’ve probably seen it all before, and if that is the case but you want to see it again, I’d say go ahead and check out Ghosts Of Darkness because it’s another well made independent feature coming at you from the UK.
My rating for “Ghosts Of Darkness” is 6/10