Here's an early warning for all you genre types – this is not going to be a pretty or pleasant experience. In the world of handmade horror, something like Dark Reality really undermines your faith in fear. Overreaching in its ambitions, shoddy in its stylistic approach, and so sickeningly self-confident that you can practically see the creators' egos growing as the storyline struggles along, this is a perfect example of why people typically hate outsider cinema. Instead of taking the audience into consideration first, the filmmakers follow their own objectives from the outset, surround themselves with likeminded individuals, and then deliver something that only they can relate to. As a result, Dark Reality is so insular that it implodes, becoming meaningless to anyone other than those directly connected to its creation.
A killer is kidnapping girls, locking them up in a dingy, dirty basement setting, and torturing them both psychologically and physically. While on her way to backpack across Europe, Carey is captured, and before she knows it, she's drugged and deposited in this dungeon Hell. As she tries to figure out what's going on, she meets a few of her fellow captives. She is even haunted by the image of a dead girl, mocking her attempts at staying sane. As her cellmates die off, one by one, Carey wonders what her fate will be. Is she destined for death, or will fear be her Dark Reality until her fatalistic fate is determined.
Dark Reality is a dismal failure, the kind of overly ambitious claptrap that seems to emanate out of every fanboy's camcorder the minute they decide to make a horror film. Utilizing a suggestive style that keeps most of the action locked off in shadows or editorial showboating, what strives to be a female Hostel ends up looking like a bad community college production of a women's prison film. The creative coupling of Christopher Hutson (with a resume including a Penthouse video and a how-to sex guide) and three additional writers thinks its being clever in keeping us, as well as the characters, in the dark about what is happening. Similar to that like minded excuse for scary spelunking, otherwise known as The Descent, the audience is placed in the POV of the actors, and only allowed to experience what they do, only allowed to know what they know. This leads to a kind of instantaneous detachment that can only be reestablished by empathetic individuals and smart scripting. Unfortunately, Dark Reality has neither. Instead, we get a Blair Witch kind of relationship to the actors, able to only tolerate them in small, preferable silent doses. The minute these trapped gals open their mouths to speak, however, we almost immediately start rooting for the middle-aged murderer. We can't wait for him to start practicing his perversion on any one of his hopeless harpy hostages.
Obviously, in his days helming shows like Why Can't I Be You? for MTV, Hutson skipped his film school classes on narrative drive, the successful application of suspense, and the pictorial possibilities of the blank, black out screen. When lumbering footsteps are supposed to get your nervous dander up, when a bottle of water is meant to make your heebies go all jeebie, when a sinister survivor starts spewing her foreshadowing laden laments as a kind of ominous oracle, you better be a damn good storyteller to sell this sort of slop. Hutson is not that nimble, especially when it comes to such cinematic circumstances. Dark Reality is so frustrating in its specific designs, so creaky in its so called creative angles, that the movie becomes an immediate buy or sell proposition for a viewer. Either you get into the whole murky mood of the situation, fear for the lives of the ladies under duress, and begin to panic about how this all will eventually play out, or you just dismiss this overdone drivel as heinous hackwork and move on. In fact, Hutson gives you little reason to stay around. There is no real gore here, no girlie gratuity or other traditional B-movie motivators. Instead, this is supposed to be a serious psychological thriller. What it ends up being is a baffling, irritating mess.
As a matter of fact, Dark Reality is so repugnant it's almost impossible to imagine how it could be salvaged. One of the tricks critics use to determine a flop's possible audience appeal is how well it could be reconfigured into a true creative triumph. Almost all bad movies could or would be made better with just the subtle application of certain motion picture particulars – better acting, straightforward storytelling, competent direction – but this film feels like that relatively rare exception. Hutson was obviously compelled to play cat and mouse with his viewers, leaving information off the table and only hinting at the possible horrors involved. Similarly, the characterization provided by the quartet of scribes is so hopeless and hokey (one victim was looking forward to her PROM – awwww!) that we never build a single shred of empathy for our endangered individuals. But perhaps the most fatal facet of Dark Reality's realization is that, as a subject, serial killers are so pre-millennial. The notion of locking up some ladies in a room, waiting for their imprisoning perv to show up and start drooling on them is a Lifetime Network level conceit. And considering we never learn a single cognizant thing about our Hannibal Ripper wannabe, we decide not to care. In fact, that's a perfect way to describe Dark Reality's success as a movie. It's the kind of stifling slaughter fest that only manages to kill your concern for anything happening onscreen. Everything else is so much mindless masturbation.
Pixelating and problematic, Mackinac Media's presentation of Dark Reality is as optically winning as the film itself. The 1.33:1 full screen image is a jumble, a combination of shifting color schemes, bad digital defects, and an overall amateur quality that calls into question the film's attempts at artistry. Drained of almost all cinematic life, and foggy to the point of imperceptibility at times, this is one terrible transfer.
Sonically, the Dolby Digital Stereo mix is an amazingly mediocre letdown. The aural elements that are supposed to add to the overall angst of the film's atmosphere just don't translate across the speakers, and the use of overmodulated scoring means that one must frequently fidget with the remote to keep the soundtrack in check. The viewer will be constantly raising the volume to catch the mostly whispered dialogue. As aggravating as the image is, the sound causes a greater level of hands on concern for the average home theater aficionado.
Oh boy, get ready for the backslapping, 'aren't we great' platitudes plastered all over this DVD's maddening added content. Without going into detail, its safe to say that the commentary believes this film to be some manner of mini-masterpiece, the EPK sells it as one of the scariest experiences of all time and the Behind the Scenes featurette is full of self-congratulatory statements. Now, there is nothing wrong with believing in yourself and the product of your efforts, but perspective should also be part of any creative person's mindset. Not everyone is going to agree with your flawless interpretation of a product's success or failure. A mild middle ground is better than a non-stop praise fest. It's a factor more first time filmmakers should take into consideration when supplementing their rank, routine efforts.
Easily earning a Skip It for being much ado about self-serving nothing, Dark Reality will probably end up being embraced by a generation of horror fans who just don't know any better. When one's frame of reference is so stunted by post-80s examples of eerie, and unexceptional excuses for entertainment like The Blair Witch Project, finding something redemptive in this otherwise pointless production seems like a given. Hopefully, the more tuned in members of the terror tempted will reject this ridiculous excuse for scares and locate the legitimate movie macabre that already exists inside the indie realm. Granted, it is a hard nut to crack. Fright is the parameter of choice whenever an amateur stares into an aperture. Like all art, however, if everyone could do it, it would no longer be important. Dark Reality is proof that, at least from an aesthetic standpoint, scary is still out of reach for many. Unfortunately, as technology becomes more readily available to the average person, we will see more of this kind of crap, not less. Now that's truly frightening.
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