Two Horror Films from Dimension
1408 (June 18/07)
Based on a short story by Stephen King, 1408 casts John Cusack as Mike Enslin - a skeptical author who finds himself trapped within the confines of a decidedly abnormal room whilst researching his latest book. Director Mikael Hafstrom - working from Matt Greenberg, Scott Alexander, and Larry Karaszewski's screenplay - initially infuses the proceedings with a sinister and genuinely creepy vibe, but there's ultimately little doubt that the film's build-up is more effective than its pay-off. Much like the source material, 1408 works best in its opening scenes - Mike's confrontation with a pragmatic hotel manager (superbly played by Samuel L. Jackson) is an obvious highlight - due primarily to the fact that it becomes awfully difficult to sympathize with Mike's predicament as the story progresses and things just get weirder and weirder. Yet there's certainly no denying the strength of Cusack's work here; the actor, forced to spend large chunks of screen time by himself, does a superb job of holding the viewer's interest through what is essentially a one-man show.
Darkness (June 21/07)
Much like The Nameless, filmmaker Jaume Balaguero's first feature, Darkness suffers from an egregiously slow pace and a general emphasis of style over substance; it's consequently impossible not to wonder just what Balaguero was attempting to accomplish here, as the movie ultimately comes off as nothing less than a total disaster. The hopelessly muddled and impenetrable storyline - which has something to do with human sacrifices and a haunted house - plays a substantial role in the film's overt failure, and there's little doubt that even the most attentive viewer will be left scratching their head at the absurdly convoluted machinations of Balaguero and Fernando de Felipe's script. The pair's inability to write convincing dialogue - it's as though the screenplay was written in Spanish and then directly translated into English - clearly doesn't help matters, nor does their penchant for infusing the various characters with thoroughly unconvincing motives and decision-making abilities (why would anyone stay in that house for more than a few minutes?) Such problems are exacerbated by the almost uniformly mediocre performances; Anna Paquin fares slightly better than her co-stars, but that's honestly not saying much. That Darkness spent a few years sitting on the shelf doesn't come as much of a surprise, and it's ultimately impossible not to wish that it had just stayed there.