Oh, The Blair Witch Project, what have you wrought? The success of that film has spawned many imitators, but none as blatant as In the Dark, a movie which was lensed in 2004, but didn't come to DVD until 2006. The movie owes a huge debt to The Blair Witch Project, but doesn't have a tenth of the imagination shown in that film. (And for the record, I hated The Blair Witch Project.)
In the Dark is a faux-documentary which tells the story of the Ridgley Institution, a hospital for "mental defectives". In 1984, there was a fire at the facility, in which one patient was killed and another was severely burned. Following that incident, a new hospital was built on an adjacent site and the old one was left standing. In 1989, a group of teenagers decided to break into the old hospital to party, and once there, they encountered some bizarre events. In the Dark tells this story through interviews, and "found" footage, consisting of surveillance cameras in the hospital and a camcorder which the youngsters used.
So, we get to watch Reese (Sean Wing), Drako (Matt Cinquanta), Max (Atom Gorelick), Dalton (Jack Thyme), and Barry (Brandon Noll) get stoned in a graveyard. Then, they go pick up three girls, Blair (Mara Marini), Casey (Nicole Sandoval), and Sareen (Khamara Pettus), and head for the institution. Once there, they chase each other around the building, playing pranks on one another, until they slowly realize that they aren't alone.
The idea of using "found footage" to make a movie is a good one. Cannibal Holocaust and The Blair Witch Project made good use of this concept because the footage was taken by documentary filmmakers. In other words, it made sense. The concept in In the Dark makes no sense whatsoever, and that issues put me on bad terms with the movie from the get-go. What we have is a ton of footage taken by a group of teenaged boys. Mind you, they aren't doing anything especially exciting in this footage -- they are simply documenting their average day. And, keep in mind that this is 1989, where they are would to be wielding a full-size camcorder. (Or one of those video cameras attached to the mini-VCR in a bag. Does anyone else remember those?) In short, this part of the film is completely unbelievable.
Once the gang reaches the institution, things don't get any better. The movie then becomes a mixture of the home video footage mixed with surveillance video, which is silent and grainy. The unreal nature of the boys taping one another is taken to absurd heights in this portion of the movie, as they lug their camcorders all over the hospital. We (the audience) watch these shenanigans until the 71-minute mark, when something actually happens. From there, the characters are killed off one-by-one, but we're typically seeing it through the surveillance camera footage, so it's difficult to tell what is happening. There are some brief "modern day" interview segments with a police officers and some nurses from the hospital, but they don't add much to the story.
In the Dark comes to us from a fella named Slater Kane, who was writer, director, producer, editor, and composer on the project. The idea of combining The Blair Witch Project with something like Session 9 isn't a bad one, but In the Dark is simply too sluggish for its own good. The characters are incredibly annoying, and honestly it took far too long for them to start dying. The movie is very boring for the first hour, as there isn't much of an attempt to wring any suspense or mood out of the visit to the hospital. In Kane's defense, the movie does have some interesting shots, such as a murder which takes place in view of a surveillance camera which is panning from side-to-side, but a few moments of visual creativity can't save this movie from being awful.
In the Dark shines a light on DVD courtesy of Sovereign Distribution. The movie is presented in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. As the movie is made up of several different video styles, the quality varies. The daytime "home movie" segments and the "modern day" interviews are fairly clear, although there is some video noise and white-balance issues. The night-time scenes are grainy and dark, making the action hard to see at times.
The DVD offers a digital stereo audio track. This track offers a constantly shifting level of audio quality. For the most part, the dialogue is either very muffled or way too loud. On most occasions, I was having to constantly increase the volume to understand what was being said.
The In the Dark DVD offers two extras. "Additional Footage" (6 minute) isn't deleted scenes, but rather it shows Slater Kane preparing for the film's production and then some on-set footage of the crew shooting in the hospital. We also get two TRAILERS for the movie.
Fans of DIY direct-to-video horror movies may find something to like in In the Dark. Personally, I found it to be an amateurish snoozefest. The characters were unlikable, the packing slack, and when things do finally start to happen, we really can't see anything. If the idea of exploring an abandoned hospital sounds appealing, I'd recommend the far superior movie Boo.