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DARKNESS

A recent, and quite possibly final, horror film from Juraj Herz, the Czech Republic’s master of all things horrific and fantastic. It’s not among his best work.

The Package
​     This 2009 Czech language film, which was originally titled T.M.A. for some reason, was distributed by Warner Bros. It was the 25th feature directed by Juraj Herz, who was 75 years old at the time. Pervious Herz films include classics like THE CREMATOR (1968), MORGIANA (1971) and BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1978), in whose company the less-than-classical DARKNESS frankly doesn’t belong.

The Story
​     Marek is a twentyish graphic artist who moves back into the creepy house in which he grew up. As you might guess, he’s assailed with all manner of weirdness, including pipes that rattle so much they shake the entire house, the sounds of chanting by spectral children and a break-in by an unseen someone--or something. And that’s not even taking into account the nightmares Marek experiences involving plucked-out eyeballs.
​     During a late night party a drunken guest cuts his hand and drips blood on the floor, which is immediately sucked up. During that same party a young woman sees a ghost, and unwisely follows it into the cellar--and is never seen again.
​     Marek starts up a tentative romance with a local woman named Lucia, who it seems has a past connection with him. Finding himself flashing back to his childhood, which was haunted by his sister Tereza--with whom he performed some horrific act he can’t remember--Marek learns that his house was once the sight of an ancient civilization that practiced arcane rituals involving human sacrifice.
     Things get so weird, with spectral children constantly appearing and disappearing, that Marek bars Lucia from entering the house. The strangeness is topped off with the appearance of the now grown up Tereza, and promises to “help” her brother--not counting on the intercession of Lucia, who still has her own part to play in this twisted drama.

The Direction
​     This film’s opening scene, juxtaposing a performance by a shitty Euro-rock band with atmospheric apprehension and a graphic eye poke, adequately sets the stage thematically and stylistically for what’s to come. This is perhaps the most overtly commercial film of Juraj Herz’s career, with the artistry of his earlier films completely absent--although DARKNESS at least proves that at age 75 Herz largely retained his moviemaking skills.
     The visuals, marked by a constantly roving Steadicam, are impressive but overdone, and the ultra-fast pacing evidently inspired by the modern-day Hollywood model. Ditto the gore effects, which are utilized in consistently lurid and exploitive (and so very un-Herz like) fashion.
​     Narratively the film is burdened with too many horrors (such as the blood drinking floor) that aren’t accounted for, and also a meandering middle section propped up with fake scares (such as a dog bursting through a doorway), in addition to much gratuitous nudity, lesbianism and gore, including what may be the most explicit arm amputation in horror movie history. That, unfortunately, does nothing to improve a confused and uninspiring film whose maker is capable of far better.


Vital Statistics

DARKNESS (T.M.A.)
Warner Bros. Pictures/Film Studio Gatteo

Director: Juraj Herz
Producer: Roman Synek
Screenplay: Martin Nemec, Juraj Herz
Cinematography: Jiri Machane
Cast: Ivan Franek, Lenka Krobotova, Malgorzata Kozuchowska, Andrej Kryc, Borik Prochazka, Michal Dlouny, Dasa Souckova, Tereza Nemcova, Zuzana Kronerova, Vojtech Lavicka, Anna Vertelarova

     

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