When I realized I was about to sit down with a movie from the guys who gave us House of the Dead, Mansquito and House of the Dead 2: Dead Aim, I was worried that I was in for 90 straight minutes of pulpy schlock. Imagine my surprise when Mark Altman & Mike Hurst's The Darkroom ended up being more of a psychological thriller than a low-end monster gore-fest.
Doesn't make The Darkroom a particularly good movie, but the filmmakers do seem intent on raising their game just a bit, which is admirable. The movie ... not so much.
A very conventional story of a kid, his homeless friend and a predictably dangerous stepfather, The Darkroom represents nothing you haven't seen before, and yet it's still strangely watchable enough to warrant some attention on a bored Tuesday night.
We open with a suspected murderer who's being given an experimental-type drug, but that prologue goes nowhere fast so the guy hightails it out of the hospital and hits the road, eventually befriending a nerdy kid who has a true JERK for a stepfather. Meanwhile, someone's killing off a bunch of transients -- and there's that mysterious darkroom that step-daddy has decreed as Off Limits. One minute we're dealing with a potentially murderous stepfather, the next we're watching a slimy monster tear homeless people in half -- plus there's that "experimental drug" subplot that pops back up every once in a while. The filmmakers may have borrowed liberally from a variety of sources, but at least they borrowed a bunch of different stuff!
And that's the general gist of the thing. Half horror movie, half a mediocre episode of The Twilight Zone, The Darkroom isn't so much "bad" as it is "dry." You'll be able to predict that meager twists from twenty minutes away, the generic plot points flop off the assembly line with little in the way of color or originality, the acting is uniformly adequate, and the payoff is anything but dazzling. But sometimes you can know precisely where a B-movie is going, and still semi-enjoy the ride.
Audio/Video: The low-budget flick is presented in a pretty solid anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) format, with audio delivered in Dolby Surround 2.0.
Extras: Filmmakers Mike Hurst and Mark Altman provide a feature-length audio commentary that explains why The Darkroom feels kinda disjointed: It was two semi-stories wedged into one screenplay when some financers asked for another flick in quick turnaround. Still, the guys come off as amiable and intelligent enough, and there's some solid material in the chat-track. You'd probably have to be a big fan of the movie to dive on in, though.
Also included is the pretty standard 20-minute The Darkroom Exposed featurette, in which cast & crew members say great things about a so-so movie. Rounding out the disc is a 15-minute reel of deleted, alternate & extended scenes, as well as a bunch of other Anchor Bay trailers.
I was two steps ahead of The Darkroom throughout all of its 84 minutes, but the thing moves along quickly enough and isn't aggressively stupid enough to piss you off. Familiar and somewhat predictable, but not awful.