Blu-ray Double Feature Review: Darkness and Below

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Echo Bridge Entertainment has paired one of their previously available titles, Jaume Balagueró’s film Darkness, with one previously unavailable title, David Twohy’s Below. It’s an appropriate double feature, as the films have a couple things in common—they are both horror films originally released in 2002.

Below is the more interesting of the two. It’s kind of a genre mash-up: part World War II thriller, part ghost story. The film is set in 1943 on the USS Tiger Shark, a submarine whose crew is troubled over the recent death of their captain (dealt with in flashbacks). Soon after picking up three survivors from a downed British hospital ship, strange occurrences become distressingly common aboard the sub. Crewmen are dropping dead, weird voices are being heard, and the Tiger Shark just can’t seem to get away from the site of their previous captain’s accidental death.

Below Darkness inside sub (350x232).jpg

Among the survivors picked up, a woman named Claire (Olivia Williams) suspects they are being haunted. Lieutenant Brice (Bruce Greenwood), commanding officer on the sub, fights the idea, as does the rest of the crew. But it starts to become clear that the unexplainable events are frequent enough for those aboard to entertain otherworldly possibilities. Revealing much more about this tense, claustrophobic thriller would be unfair. The film, co-scripted by Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan), keeps things suitably creepy and suspenseful. The cast is excellent, with strong work by Williams and Greenwood and a supporting turn from a not-yet-famous Zach Galifianakis.

The audio/visual presentation of Below is acceptable though unremarkable. The 1080p transfer retains a natural film-look, with a layer of fine grain present throughout. Detail and sharpness are relatively strong, even in the mostly dim, atmospheric lighting. A few dirt specs pop up once in a while. More disappointing is the DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo track. It actually sounds fine (if a little thin), but a 5.1 mix would’ve been nice. Special features include a 12-minute making-of featurette and about ten minutes of deleted scenes.

Consider Darkness a bonus on this budget-priced Blu-ray and it comes across a little less disappointing. Instead of a haunted submarine, Darkness gives us a more traditional haunted house. An American family living in Spain moves into a house that was once the site of a satanic ritual that resulted in the sacrificial slaying of several children. Strange things begin happening, including Mark (Iain Glen), the head of household, displaying signs of a mental breakdown. His wife, Maria (Lena Olin), and teenage daughter, Regina (Anna Paquin), are growing increasingly concerned. Regina’s younger brother, Paul (Stephan Enquist), becomes convinced there is a presence in his bedroom as he sees scary visions.

Below Darkness paquin (350x233).jpg

It should go without saying that the house and its new inhabitants share a deeper connection. That connection provides the film’s twist, but the storytelling is muddled enough that you might not care by the time it’s revealed. Though creepy in places, Darkness is a dull dud. At 102 minutes it feels at least 20 minutes too long, but it’s unlikely any amount of trimming would make this any less boring. Anna Paquin fans are probably the primary target audience, and she delivers a serviceable though entirely indistinct performance.

As for the high definition presentation, Darkness offers reasonably strong picture quality. Much like Below, its biggest problem is a dirty source print. There are quite a few specs and spots that crop up throughout. Otherwise it presents fairly sharp, detailed images. Anyone hoping for a high definition surround mix will be disappointed by the inclusion of a lossy 5.1 Dolby Digital mix. The other option is a DTS-HD MA 2.0 track that is somewhat more vibrant sounding. A very short promotional featurette is included as a special feature.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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