No matter how bad the project, I have never seen Gary Cole deliver an uninteresting performance. He comes close to breaking that streak, though, in “Darkness Falls,” a thoroughly inept serial killer thriller that nearly squanders its best asset in Cole. The movie does squander everything else in an utterly amateurish production.
In “Darkness Falls,” Cole plays the senior half of a father-and-son team of serial killers that target successful career women who had recently been in the news. The pair force their victims to overdose on pills, then put them in a bathtub and slit their wrists. They are so good at their work that the police have no clue, despite dozens of these apparent suicides in the Los Angeles area. Only one cop, rogue detective Shawn Ashmore, suspects what’s going on after his wife becomes one of the pair’s victims. But even after one would-be victim survives an attack, the rest of the department won’t explore the possibility of a serial killer, leaving Ashmore to track down the killers on his own.
I’ve often criticized TV shows like “Criminal Minds” that oversimplify complex cases into straightforward procedurals that can be solved in an hour timeframe. However, a typical “Criminal Minds” episode seems like rocket science compared to “Darkness Falls.” Ashmore solves the case by putting up a wallboard of information about the victims, then imagining himself as the killer. He does this by screaming “I hate you” repeatedly at the pictures of the victims, including his wife. Apparently, this advanced profiling method works because Ashmore figures out which of the hundreds of potential victims will be the killers’ next target. But once Ashmore apprehends Cole (while the killer’s son escapes), the ridiculous plot twists continue for another 40 minutes or so.
As mentioned earlier, Cole steals what little there is to purloin in “Darkness Falls” with a performance notable primarily for his being able to recite ridiculous dialogue with a straight face. He seems mildly amused by the entire movie. That’s better than Ashmore, who acts as if he massively overdosed on caffeine before every scene. There are only four other significant roles in the film, as the entire Los Angeles Police Department seems to comprise two cops, Ashmore and his immediate superior (Daniella Alonso). Even by the relaxed standards of low-budget police thrillers, the credibility of “Darkness Falls” is virtually nonexistent.
A lack of credibility isn’t always fatal in a movie like this, as long as there’s enough decent action. However, director Julien Seri, who is making his English-language debut here, proves completely inept at staging this type of film. The opening scene, in which Cole and his son force Ashmore’s wife to take an overdose of pills, is filmed at a considerable distance from the end of a hallway in the family’s house. As a result, it’s impossible to see the expressions on the actors’ faces in a potentially dramatic scene. Instead, the audience just hears Cole droning on at length.
I expect little from direct-to-video shlock such as “Darkness Falls,” but I got even less than expected. Gary Cole has the bulk of the movie’s dialogue despite the fact that he’s on-screen much less than half the time. He is occasionally creepy but mostly comes across more like the guy you try to avoid at a cocktail party rather than a deranged psychopath. There is a final showdown between Shawn Ashmore and the killers at a remote location in the desert, but the action is mechanical and predictable. “Darkness Falls,” under a different title, played at a few European film festivals before being dumped here in the United States. Potential viewers should not be fooled by this apparent film festival acceptance of the film. Instead, they should just let the curtain fall on “Darkness Falls.”