We here at BOP are an eclectic group, and our tastes in movies run from the serious cinephiles to the foreign-film aficionados to niche film lovers. Thus was born the idea for this weekly column, devoted to horror films of all shapes and sizes, but concentrating on those B- and C-grade films that mainstream reviewers disdain, but are the bread-and-butter of every spook movie lover's viewing. So come with me as we venture beyond the slimy wall, uncovering the treasures - and burying the time-wasting bombs - that await those who dare to love the scare.
Beyond the Slimy Wall: Darklight
By Stephanie Star Smith
August 25, 2005
If Sci-Fi Channel Original Pictures keeps this up, I may have to revise my baseline attitude towards the production house.
Actually, it's more of a numbers game; Sci-Fi Originals puts out so much product - about one new movie every six to eight weeks - that it's to be expected most of it will be mediocre at best, and a fair portion will be utterly unwatchable dreck that can't even make it to so-bad-it's-good level. But more and more recently, the Sci-Fi Channel's production arm has been putting out some pretty decent product, and some of it has even managed the upper reaches of good B flicks.
Darklight is a case in point. Ostensibly part of the current paranormal/angels amongst us/heavenly wars/the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse Are Due at 4:30 wave of TV and feature-film output, Darklight takes a more interesting tack with its tale. The main focus of its plot and of the actions of the majority of the characters is Lilith, a female demon in Judaism who is purported in some texts to have been the first, and less pliant, wife of Adam. According to these texts, Lilith saw herself as Adam's equal; when Adam pulled the "I'm the man, I'm in charge" routine, Lilith fled the Garden of Eden by choice and became a force for evil, variously described as a succubus and a stealer of babies. According to the film, legends tell that no matter how many times she is vanquished, she will always rise again to use her dark powers against people of faith, and that she must be constantly guarded against lest her rather vague but still decidedly evil plans come to fruition.
Now this being a mystical action film, there is naturally a secret group, here called The Faith, who are charged with seeking out Lilith in all her forms and preventing her from doing...whatever it is she gets up to; the film is a bit vague on quite what all she's planning to do, but suffice it to say she's up to nothing but e-vil. The other conventions of this recently-developed sub-genre are all here, too: the dark soul given a chance at redemption; traitors within the society pledged to protect the innocent from evil who are actually working their own agendas; and the reluctant hero caught in the middle, trying to figure out who is friend, who is foe, and keep track of the ones who seem to keep changing sides.
I've made Darklight sound a bit more formulaic than it really is, and the unique qualities of its tale stem from some truly original ideas rather than the fact that the heavenly/angelic wars/It's Four Horseman Time! field is a relatively new one. Most of the interest, in fact, comes in the discovery of the title's meaning, and how this affects the characters. In fact, to go too much into it would be to give away too many of the intriguing twists and turns of the plot, which is one of those delightful labyrinths where you rarely know exactly where the film's headed, and even when you think you've got the plot sussed - some elements are relatively clear relatively quickly - you suddenly discover that there's a whole lot more going on round here than you, or the characters, thought.
Darklight doesn't have many recognizable names in its cast; in fact, the only actor most of the audience will recognize is John de Lancie, who plays a senior member of The Faith. The female lead, Shiri Appleby, will also be familiar to the Roswell fans in the audience, but the remainder of the cast is full of unknowns. However, lack of name recognition is certainly not a detriment here, as all the actors do a great job with the characters, particularly Appleby and Richard Burgi, who plays the reluctant hero and protector of Appleby's character. The majority of screen time is devoted to these two, and they carry the load quite admirably. The special effects are also really well done, and that's not compared just to Sci-Fi Originals, where most of the films have an F/X budget of $1.98; the effects here are pretty impressive, and I give the filmmakers kudos for coming up with a brilliant way to depict the evil entity believably while still not breaking the F/X budget.
Although Sci-Fi Channel has a penchant for rerunning things, particularly its Originals productions, 40-11 times, I've yet to see Darklight listed since I first saw it several months back, nor does it seem to be available currently on DVD. Still, it's a great popcorn film and certainly one to keep on the lookout for or to add to your TiVo Wish Lists so you can catch it next time it's on. You won't be sorry you invested the two hours-including-commercials of your viewing time.
I see by the shadows falling from my bust of Pallas that our time is up. Until next time, then, when we will once again venture Beyond the Slimy Wall.