Reviewed by The Foywonder
Starring Shiri Appleby, Richard Burgi, John de Lancie, and David Hewlett
Directed by Bill Platt
When I first saw the commercial for Darklight, my immediate reaction was that it looked pretty cool. The fact that UFO Films produced it and it was a Sci-Fi Channel Saturday night premiere movie should have instantly told me that it was doomed to crapdom, but I was still intrigued nonetheless. Darklight even managed to get a bit more press on the net than your typical Sci-Fi Channel premiere in part because of its being directed by Bill Platt, who was one of the people behind the popular Sci-Fi Channel short film series Exposure. Unfortunately, it appears Platt failed to learn one very important lesson from his work on Exposure – if there’s nothing interesting on the page, then there isn’t going to be anything interesting on the screen.
The basic premise behind Darklight is an intriguing one, but the execution is just so clichéd, so run of the mill, and so very tired that boredom set in mere minutes into the film. Was there nobody involved with this movie behind the scenes that had any sense of imagination? There’s nothing I hate more than watching a movie that has a premise with tons of potential but doesn’t do a damn thing with it outside of the most basic clichés of the genre. Even clichés can sometimes be presented in an entertaining manner. This is not one of those times.
Darklight is based on the legend of Lilith, who was supposedly the first woman created by God to be Adam's wife, but she rejected him and the Garden of Eden and so God damned her for all eternity, forcing her to wander the Earth as an unholy monster. A super secret order of clerics called "The Faith" who are so generic they could just as easily be the Watchers from "Buffy" or the Watchers from "Highlander: The Series" have finally managed to subdue Lilith, but instead of killing her, they blank her memory and send her to live with a member of the group.
Fast forward three years later where we are introduced to Shiri Appleby as "L", the former hellish banshee turned motorbike riding, flower shop clerking, wouldn't hurt a fly amnesiac searching for clues to her past and why she has these glyphs embedded on her wrist known as the Marks of Daggoth, which are tied to a biblical curse. Mostly "L" just sits in the park staring off into space for long periods of time. Well, at least that's what she seems to do for most of the film's first half hour or so. What she doesn't know but will soon come to learn is that she is this Lilith and thus possesses an ancient power called Darklight.
Let’s jump back for a moment to the whole erased memories thingy. We’ve all seen movies before where characters lose their memory and become better people because they don’t remember that they used to be pricks. However, I have a hard time believing that an evil entity that was condemned to eternal damnation by God wouldn’t show any signs of a dark side just because they can't remember that God once damned them for all eternity. I’m fairly certain the level of supernatural evil we’re talking about here runs a bit deeper than just repressing some memories and thus should manifest itself somehow even if only in brief moments. I’m fairly certain that there’s a huge difference between having sociopathic tendencies in your behavioral psyche and being an embodiment of pure evil, but according to this movie if you can’t remember that you’re evil incarnate, then you won’t show any traces of it. Using this logic, if "The Faith" ever captures Satan, they can blank his memory and turn him into Will Rogers.
So, what exactly is this Darklight power? One who wields Darklight can heal rapidly, and they can use it as a weapon or bestow its power to any object they are holding like, say, a hubcap, thus upgrading it from a +1 hubcap to a +6 hubcap. This comes in handy when one needs a weapon and fists and claws just won’t do. It also gives one the ability to take on a Demonicus form and, in Lilith’s case, a pre-Demonicus form that makes her look like a charcoal version of Mystique. But really it’s just a generic superpower that could just as easily have been the basis for a character on Mutant X. When your movie is based around the concept of a superpower and the superpower proves to be as uninspired as Darklight is, then you know there was never any hope for the flick to begin with.
And I’m sorry, but certain actors and actresses just shouldn’t be cast in certain roles. You don’t cast Jackie Chan as an English teacher, you don’t cast Carrot Top as the male lead in an erotic thriller, you don’t cast Paris Hilton as Cinderella, and you do not cast the cute dark-haired waif from "Roswell" as a demonic badass. You just don’t. Shiri Appleby is incapable of giving off that hard edge vibe that this role desperately needed. She’s playing a character that is supposed to be one of the most evil, ruthless, and unholy fiends in biblical history that now finds herself as the only hope to save humanity; but she comes across as just an average girl living out her Buffy fantasy. Eliza Dushku’s Faith and Lucy Lawless’ Xena were both characters that turned good after committing evil acts, and both played their roles with a sense of remorse and occasionally, when provoked, showed signs of their dark side. That is totally missing here. Maybe it was the fault of the writer and director more than Miss Appleby, but "L" comes across as nothing more than an ordinary girl that suddenly finds herself with superpowers. Thus, the character of "L" isn’t even remotely interesting because we’ve seen this character so many times before. I'm more inclined to blame it on the casting of Appleby because she just can’t pull it off. She plays her one scene of true remorse with unrealistic Susan Lucci-like melodrama, and her attempts to act tough just come across as a unconvincing posing and play acting.
A generic b-movie like this needs a generic b-movie villain, and so along comes John de Lancie in his umpteenth generic b-movie villain role, this time as a disillusioned member of "The Faith" fed up with a lack of answers from God about the reason why we exist, the difference between good and evil, how many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop, and every other generic reason why a person would renounce his faith and try to unleash the apocalypse. He’s manipulated another member of "The Faith" into turning himself into a Demonicus, a gargoyle-like demon that looks like Pumpkinhead after six months on the Slim Fast diet. If being a bloodthirsty, anorexic hellbeast wasn’t enough, this Demonicus also carries with it a biblical plague known as the Red Death or the Red Plague or the Red Buttons, I forget. Whatever it was called, this plague starts out with people developing unsightly red blotches and culminates in them turning into a big quivering mound of red fungus. There is no cure for this plague – except for the one that conveniently turns up in the film’s climax - and it is prophesized to be the plague that will bring about the end times. The Demonicus also goes around killing a few specific people for reasons that were either never explained or were explained later on during a 15-20 minute period where I actually dozed off on the movie due to sheer boredom. I’m not kidding. This movie literally put me to sleep a little over an hour into it.
"The Faith" learns about the plague spreading Demonicus being on the loose and decides to activate Lilith to kill it. The reason the leader of “The Faith” refused to destroy Lilith when they had the chance and instead decided to put her in the Heretic Protection Program is that there’s another prophecy stating that Lilith will turn good and possibly save humanity from the forces of evil. This doesn’t sit well with a certain member of "The Faith" that gets the assignment to help retrain Lilith to use her Darklight to fight the forces of evil because she killed his son many years earlier. The tension that is supposed to exist between these two barely registers. Again, I don’t know if it was the actors or the writing - probably both – but there is just no sense of conflict to be found anywhere. Everything about this movie aside from the intriguing concept at the heart of it is done in the least interesting way possible.
From there it pretty much plays out just like you’d expect a "Buffy, The Vampire Slayer" knock-off to play out. And that is what Darklight ultimately is – another Buffy wannabe. Hell, judging by the action scenes, Lilith not only possesses the power of Darklight, but she’s also a world-class gymnast and martial arts expert.
One thing I really don’t understand is why a movie that is based around Christian theology never even tries to deal with the subject matter of religious faith in any specific detail. Every single time the subject matter comes up, the characters always talk around it instead of actually delving into it. God forbid that a movie whose storyline is steeped in religion actually deals with the topic. Were the filmmakers afraid of offending someone or turning some people off if they actually dealt with theology? How can you make a movie that features a group of religious clerics called "The Faith" yet they don’t really seem to have any? Personally, I think they were just afraid they might introduce an element into the movie that might actually make things interesting and add some weight to their flimsy story.
Darklight’s big highlight scene is an all-CGI battle between the Demonicus and Lilith in her own feminine Demonicus form, and when I say "all-CGI battle," I do mean all-CGI. Everything in the scene from the background to the lighting to the creatures fighting is computer generated. That would be all well and good except the CGI is on par with a cut scene in a Playstation 2 video game. It was so unconvincing that I could only shake my head and laugh. I realize that computer effects are the "in" thing, but I cannot for the life of me comprehend why so many low-budget monster movie filmmakers rely on computer animation that isn’t even remotely realistic over going the more traditional route of using a guy in a rubber suit, make-up, and/or puppetry. The guy in the rubber monster suit might not be completely realistic either, but at least he’s tangible; and while he may move in a clunky manner, at least he won’t move like a cartoon character. During Darklight a commercial aired for this new computer animated G.I. Joe movie, and I swear the special effects in this demon battle scene were no better than the clips I saw from that computer animated film. Listen to me filmmakers: Do Not Fear The Rubber Suit!
Worst of all, Darklight ends in a manner that makes it perfectly clear that it is intended to be the launching point for a potential TV series. I don’t think so. At least, I hope not.
If you managed to read this entire review without nodding off or feeling compelled to click on another link, then this review of Darklight has proven to be more interesting than the film itself. Darklight is just a total dead zone. Unless you lust after Shiri Appleby or are in desperate need of a drug-free sleep aid, then I cannot think of a single reason why anyone should ever waste his or her time sitting through this unimaginative snooze fest.
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