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When Darkness Falls

“When Darkness Falls” is flawed, but there are enough bright spots — including some spectacular visuals — to make it worth a watch.

Cinematography these days makes me feel like I’m living in the future. The sharpness of the picture, the details in the textures, the brightness of the colors… total mindfuck for this VHS junkie with one foot still planted firmly in the ’80s.

The Hi-Def is nice.

What’s not nice in When Darkness Falls (the new British thriller released June 21st, co-written by director Nathan Shepka who also plays a lead role in the film) is the over-the-top musical score which is too loud and too omnipresent during scenes that would work so much better without any music at all.

In this case, however, composer John McFarlane’s score is so good during the scenes in which it turns up the intensity (such as chase sequences) that it almost makes up for being too insistent in other scenes. Thankfully, this isn’t a problem throughout the entire film but much of it, to be sure.

The filmmakers knew they had one of the most beautiful locations in the world to shoot — the hills and forests of Scotland — so they did the right thing by giving us as many gorgeous aerials and wide-angle shots as they could reasonably squeeze in between snippets of story.

The movie also knows what it has in free-spirited, yoga-pants-wearing Andrea (Emma O’Hara) and more reserved Jess (Michaela Longden, Book of Monsters, Asphyxiate), who serves as her foil.

Our introduction to Andrea is her nearly skinny dipping in 10° water to pique our interest and flashing a local farmer, which is appreciated (if not by the farmer, then at least this viewer). Jess, of course, shuts that shit down with quickness.

Yes, you may notice some of the dialogue and direction are a little rough.

That said, the scenery and ever-present sound of nature, particularly the wind, make it much easier to give such sins a pass. At times, the non-stop soundtrack is quite a distraction during more intimate scenes, though the platonic chemistry between the leads is natural enough to push through it for the most part.

Some of the devices are a bit heavy-handed, such as a newspaper headline “POLICE HUNT LOCAL MAN”, as well as a “MISSING GIRL” flyer. And some of the sound work, especially the dubbing, is clunky but not so bad that it takes you completely out of the movie.

The first third of the film is mostly spent establishing character, with the two protagonists meeting a couple of shady guys in a bar (director Shepka, and Craig McEwan, The Vampire in 2016’s Protection), before it transitions to a goofy mix of red flags vs. red herrings.

We know something is amiss (how could we not with all this tension-building music?), but it’s enough of a slow burn that we can’t draw many conclusions for quite a while.

We just know Andrea has gone her own way with one of the shady dudes after a few drinks with him, and Jess wants nothing to do with him or his buddy, who tries to follow her on her solo hike but gets shut down by a friendly ex-cop (the imposing and show-stealing Ben Brinicombe).

Things start getting a little awkward right before the halfway mark.

The filmmakers’ inexperience becomes more glaring as Jess begins to act far too upset about her friend having gone missing for a few hours, and the soundtrack builds to an unearned crescendo.

But then we are finally treated to some real action, with Andrea being inexplicably chased down by the two guys from the earlier bar scene (last we saw, she’d left with the better looking of the two of her own volition).

And then the film does something that I have loved in many horror films, but especially the Tom Savini-directed “Halloween Candy” episode of Tales from the Darkside, Poltergeist 2, and The Ring.

During the chase, there are brief flashes of a horror that is to come — what we can assume is the unfavorable and bloody outcome of the very chase being punctuated by these split-second flash-forwards.

What doesn’t work as well is a device this movie overuse, which is the replaying of dialogue from earlier scenes. It’s really not good enough dialogue to deserve being heard more than once, even when it tries to let the viewer in on a bit of intrigue.

Then it turns out the chase was only a dream sequence, so I guess we can forgive the oddball flashback/flash-forwardness of it.

What’s harder to forgive is the amount of dread the movie tries to build around these two strangers before we have any reason at all to view them as a threat besides one dream sequence. It just doesn’t work.

But then finally, yes!

Some real blood! A real stabbing! And an earned reaction from Jess, who witnesses a murder and has, for all intents and purposes, now become the main protagonist.

Thankfully, as things start to take off, stakes are raised, and there are not one but two dead bodies and a stolen goods plot to add to the drama. The movie then goes full-on crime drama, with Jess teaming up with an unlikely partner to find her friend and his missing bag.

Best line: “Either you’re looking at my gun or my dick. Either way, I’m not in the mood for you makin’ a grab at it.”

So, it turns out this movie is mainly a by-the-numbers thriller, augmented by the fact that for at least half the movie, you get to see some truly breathtaking shots of Scotland, and the final act is gripping and tense.

The payoff works extremely well in the form of a clever and dark plot twist that is dampened somewhat by some lackluster fight scenes that do at least manage to crank up the gore a notch or two, but… are almost laughable.

The “final showdown” is utterly silly (hey, look, a handy dandy crowbar in the middle of nowhere!), but again, at least it’s nice and bloody. And the big finale, while predictable, still feels pretty good.

If you also would like to feel pretty good, give When Darkness Falls a go. It’s bloody pretty, AND it’s pretty bloody! Now available to rent on Amazon Prime.

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 3

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