Emanuela Rossi’s debut feature “Darkness” starts strong, with a somewhat familiar premise delving into feminist themes but soon becomes a messy disappointment.
Stella (Denise Tantucci), Luce (Gaia Bocci) and Aria (Olimpia Tosatto) live in a secluded dark house with their father (Valerio Binasco). None of the three sisters are allowed to step a foot outside because, according to their father, there’s an apocalyptic landscape and most of the population has died; only strong men like him can go out to try to get food.
The father is a misogynistic jerk. When he’s not shouting or slapping one of them, he’s telling horrific tales about women, like their mother, whose skin melted after going outside. The girls are psychologically controlled by fear and are forced to endure a miserable upbringing. And it gets worse when the father starts showing an incestous fixation on Luce.
Even though it gets grim fast, “Darkness” is very engaging during its first half. There are vibes of Lenny Abrahamson’s “Room”, Yorgos Lanthimos’s “Dogtooth” and even Dan Trachtenberg’s “10 Cloverfield Lane.” When alone, Stella prays for the apocalypse to come and end their lives, but near her sisters she tries to maintain joy by making them imagine how beautiful the world was before the tragedy. The acting is terrific, the feminist arc is smart, the threat of the father gets you invested in the three sisters’ safety and the isolation aspect is definetely in tune with our current situation.
But the story is quite predictable and you know that eventually, someone is going to go outside and find the truth. Rossi tries to hit you with a curveball during the first act by showing shots of a man in a hazmat suit and a noisy radiation detector in the outer world, but this attempt is nothing but lazy and cheap.
After averting an incestuous attempt, Stella decides to risk it. She goes outside and finds a most horrific truth. Ironically, the plot loses air and, from there on, “Darkness” becomes an introspective film about a woman coping with her existence. Stella’s choices are frustrating and the story is too surreal for its own good. The script quickly falls apart, and the third act becomes a mess.
If we take the writing out of the equation, this film has some tremendous directing. Rossi smoothly blends music into the plot to amplify its themes, all three main performances feel natural, the world of isolation is thoroughly convincing and the audiovisual aspect is on point.
“Darkness” is a nicely directed feminist tale that explores how patriarchy is used to stifle women’s freedom from within the family. However, the message doesn’t get far thanks to a weak script and a predictable story that leaves us with an annoying mess of a film. It’s a commendable effort by Rossi though.
“Darkness” will be streaming at Nightstream Film Festival from October 10 to 15. Make sure to keep an eye out on Shuffle Online for the latest coverage of this and other genre festivals of the season.
Ricardo is a Mexico City based bilingual writer, digital animation graduate and awards season nerd. He also enjoys pro wrestling, is a Paddington fan and is the founder of the film website “La Estatuilla.”