Writer/Director Mike Hurst and Writer/Producer Mark Altman have had a pretty successful year. 2006 has seen 3 collaborations from the pair, including this latest direct-to-video thriller. Once again, the pair has imported a small screen cast to deliver—what the filmmakers are referring to as a companion piece to their earlier project ROOM 6.
Greg Grunberg (HEROES), Lucy Lawless (XENA), Reed Diamond (HOMICIDE) and Shawn Pryform (DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES) star as a group of people caught in a web of deceit and mystery.
With no memory of his past—other than being picked up 15-years earlier on a dusty country road, covered in blood—an asylum patient (Reed Diamond) agrees to an experimental procedure in every effort to remember who he is and what he has done. When the effects of the new psychoactive drug causes him delusions of a ghastly mud monster and the tattered bleeding corpses of young women everywhere, the man escapes the institution in hopes of discovering the truth locked away in his mind.
On the streets he soon befriends Stanley (Shawn Pryform) an awkward kid whose increasingly erratic home life is complicated by his overbearing stepfather (Greg Grunberg) and his alcoholic mother (Lucy Lawless). As the bond between Stanley and this man grows, each is pulled into the others world as they both uncover a horrifying secret that will redefine each of their lives forever.
Like Altman and Hurst’s ROOM 6, THE DARKROOM is a psychological thriller with only the weakest of horror ties. The effects are sufficiently gruesome and the monster is reasonably valuable but in the end this is a story of how tragedy forms bonds. It’s a mystery with the requisite twist ending. The film’s minor success is that the twist is reasonably well hidden; only beginning to become evident in the final 20 minutes. It’s clear that the characters in the film are inextricably linked, but the how and why of the situation is what pushes the plot along. The film’s minor failure though is that—like ROOM 6—the ultimate twist isn’t anything even closely resembling original.
The stunt casting here is in setting Greg Grunberg up as something of the “heavy”. Grunberg who’s made a successful character actor by essentially embodying the gentile everyman in shows ranging from ALIAS and FELICITY to this season’s breakout television hit HEROES, gives over his characterization of Bob with a subtle intensity. The actor sites the performance of fellow T.V. vet Terry O’Quinn’s performance in THE STEPFATHER as his inspiration, and indeed, the nuances and sly joy shared by these characters clearly mirror each other. Surpassingly the best performance in the film is that of Reed Diamond, who plays very matter-of-factly and can even at times seem almost too dry. It’s hardly a flashy role but somehow the actor imbues his unknown man with an almost Zen-like approach to solving the riddle of his existence. Some may find him dull, but I found him grossly fascinating.
The DVD release of the film—like the other Altman/Hurst productions features a few deleted scenes, including an extended monologue from Grunberg that is off-the-wall creepy. A fluff-piece documentary gives us a good 15-minute look at production and offers a couple interesting stories while Hurst and Altman provide their third joint audio commentary—something the pair manage to do exceedingly well.
Sure the film is a bit hokey and the twist ending is likely to elicit more groans than gawks, but for 84-minutes, Hurst manages to put on a pretty entertaining—if not wildly ambitious—show for his faithful viewers. After leaving his mark on the HOUSE OF THE DEAD franchise as well as penning 2006’s DTV films THE GRAVEYARD and THE BUTCHER, it’s clear that Hurst knows his cliché’s as well—if not better—than most genre scribes. I think it could be a lot of fun to see the filmmaker try his hand at something a little less derivative on one of his upcoming shoots—but alas his latest production is a continuation of the PUMPKINHEAD series—so—better luck next time Mike.