Directed by Paul Soter
As far as After Dark films go, Dark Circles is definitely one of the better projects I’ve seen released under this banner. A fun little mind-bending thriller that managed to throw in a few surprises, Dark Circles follows a young couple who are left wondering what’s real and what’s not after they both begin suffering from disturbing visions of a violent woman after their family while coping with a brand-new infant who keeps them up day and night.
As the new parents’ sleep deprivation grows, their sanity begins to crumble away and soon enough, Alex (Johnathon Schaech) and Penny (Pell James) are pushed to the brink, left questioning everything about reality and whether or not pure evil incarnate is actually stalking their new family or if it’s all in their fragile minds.
Written and directed by Paul Soter (“Broken Lizard” writer on Beerfest, Super Troopers and more), Dark Circles isn’t by any means the most revolutionary ‘haunted house’ flick but what it does get right is that Soter immediately begins to build an unsettling sense of tension from the start and doesn’t let up at all until the finale. There have been a lot of recent supernatural ‘thrillers’ released over the last year that all squandered their potential when it came time to deliver on a finale that delivers in terms of momentum and impact (hello, The Apparition and The Possession) and Dark Circles finishes as strongly as it starts.
Soter also throws in a few effective mindfuck moments too throughout the story that actually left this writer surprised (a sequence involving a babysitter being a great, WTF moment in particular); he smartly uses Alex and Penny’s deteriorating mental capacities as great storytelling fodder that not only provided several effectively creepy moments but also gave the audience a reason to sympathize with the film’s protagonists and want them to survive their harrowing ordeal, something you don’t get a lot of these days in the genre world. Again, nothing about the story in Dark Circles is all that revolutionary, leaving both Soter and his leads Schaech and James to do all the heavy lifting and for the most part, they all absolutely succeed here.
As a couple, both actors share great chemistry together and also push their characters into some really uncomfortable places. Schaech’s character at one point has a Shining-esque breakdown moment after being accused of endangering his infant son Tanner and it’s been a while since this writer has seen him that volatile as a performer. James is also rather fantastic in the film, as a mother who at one point can’t even remember the name of her child but still fights for his safety with an unflinching resolve. Both are likable and the kind of people you want to see make it through all the horrific crap their going through, making Dark Circles that more engaging and enjoyable.
And for those of you who are curious, Dark Circles also delivers a couple of fun gore gags, and one particularly gag-inducing moment in the first few moments of the movie which definitely set the tone for what was to come. In his story, Soter doesn’t shy away from violence at all and he lets the blood flow freely throughout the flick as well.
While it may not necessarily be the most original thriller to come long this or any recent year, there’s still a lot of good stuff going on Dark Circles that would make for a fun, rainy day movie to enjoy while curled up on your couch. Soter’s tension-filled story smartly gives us characters to root for and some great cringe-inducing and surprising moments, making for a rather enjoyable supernatural tale. Dark Circles is by far one of the stronger After Dark titles I’ve seen in some time and would be up for more from Soter in the future.
3 out of 5
1 out of 5