I don't know, maybe it was the rolling blackouts in California, but over the past few years, filmmakers have been obsessed with nasty things coming out of the darkness. First came Darkness Falls and then there was They, both of which received theatrical releases. Now, we have the direct-to-video entry Fear of the Dark, and like those earlier films, it's a disappointment.
In Fear of the Dark, we meet young Ryan Billings (Jesse James) and his older brother Dale (Kevin Zegers). Their parents (Linda Purl & Charles Powell) are going out for the evening and leaving Dale in charge. There's only one problem: Ryan is deathly afraid of the dark. Ryan is convinced that there are creatures living in the darkness who are trying to eat him. Dale scoffs at his younger sibling's fears, but when the lights are knocked out by a violent thunderstorm, things begin to get weird. Dale and Ryan begin to see and hear odd things in the house. Is there really something evil lurking in the darkness, or has Ryan's phobia influenced Dale's thinking?
Fear of the Dark is a film which resides at the intersection of ambiguity and mediocrity. Director K.C. Bascombe has given the film a very nice look. The Billings' home is full of shadows and even when the lights are on, much of the scene is shrouded in darkness. The film's lighting scheme reminded me of a John Carpenter film. The scenes with the "darkness creatures" are nicely done, and with Bascombe getting a great deal of mileage out of the "was that really there?" effects. There are also some piano-based musical cues in the film which reminded me of Carpenter.
Unfortunately, the film's style is brought crashing down by its lack of substance. To put it very mildly, nothing really happens in Fear of the Dark. We are introduced to the fact that Ryan is afraid of the dark and believes that monsters live in the darkness. The lights go out and Ryan and Dale debate a lot about whether or not Ryan's fears are irrational. Granted, there is an action scene in the middle of the film and then one at the finale, but these don't amount to much. Even more frustrating is a pre-title sequence which is mentioned later on in the film, but is never fully tied into the story. Bascombe attempts to take John Sullivan's script and use it to build tension, but most viewers will get frustrated waiting for the dark to come to life. To make matters worse, at one point in the film, Ryan is watching The Evil Dead, which only made me long for a film with more visceral action. For a direct-to-video film, Fear of the Dark has a nice-look, but beyond that facade there is nothing but darkness.
Fear of the Dark flows onto DVD courtesy of Screen Media Films. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image in this transfer is solid and clear, showing no overt grain, nor are there any noticeable defects from the source material. As noted above, the film has a very dark look, but this is handled well by this DVD, as the action in the dark scenes is always visible and the blacks have a very rich and true look. I did notice some edge-enhancement, but the artifacting is kept to a minimum. Overall, a solid video transfer.
The Fear of the Dark DVD carries what the packaging refers to as a "2.1 Stereo" audio track. (I don't think I've ever seen that before.) This track provides clear dialogue and sound effects, and there is no hissing or distortion to be had on the track. The film is filled with eerie sound effects, and these play well in front channels, producing very nice stereo effects. The subwoofer action is discrete, but effective at times. Yes, this movie could have certainly benefited from a 5.1 track, but the audio here is definitely serviceable.
For the purposes of this review, an advance screener DVD copy of Fear of the Dark was utilized. This DVD only contained four actor filmographies as the sole extra, although the final version does offer cast interviews.
Although Fear of the Dark was a disappointment, it may find an audience as it is rated PG-13, a rarity for horror films. Still, I have trouble trusting any film which uses a blurb from IMDB.com on the DVD packaging. It only gets worse when a little research shows that the blurb was taking from a review written by Fear of the Dark's screenwriter under a pseudonym. Now I'm having "Fear of the Self-Promotion."