Lionsgate // 2013 // 86 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // May 30th, 2013
Sleep when you're dead.
Not having children of my own, I can't quite understand the complete lack of sleep that young parents are subjected to, but I sympathize. Waking up five times a night, whether that's from having to soothe some crying or because a train keeps blowing its stupid horn, is no picnic. It changes you, alters your mood, and drives you crazy. Given that, it's a little surprising that horror movies don't trade in the concept more often. Writing and directing his first horror project, Paul Soter (member of the Broken Lizard, the comedy group behind Super Troopers and Beerfest) has given fans just that. The next in the After Dark Originals line, Dark Circles isn't the best that the series has offered, but is a perfectly decent piece of family horror.
Penny (Pell James, Fanboys) and Alex (Jonathon Schaech, Quarantine) are long in love and, though Alex has never popped the question, the two are expecting a baby. Once Tanner is born, they move out to a country home where they can raise him out of the noise of the big city. They find no peace there, however, as the baby will not stop crying and the couple can't get a minute of sleep. Soon, their minds start to crack and they begin to see the apparition of a young woman stalking the house. As madness sets in, they begin to turn on each other and their happy family becomes a house of horrors.
Dark Circles starts off strong with a strange and frightening opening that immediately builds a good horror atmosphere. It resets after that, slowing down a little but, at the same time, giving us a glimpse into what looks like a perfectly loving relationship between Penny and Alex. They have good chemistry together and, though we clearly know better, there appears to be hope that they'll really make a go of it. Of course, they don't, and as the sleep deprivation sets in and the specter of a woman starts appearing to them, the family dynamic quickly breaks down.
It may be a one-note plot, but the film is unique, interesting, and short enough to sustain the suspense. Soter does a good job of maintaining the tension, even when not a whole lot is happening. It's his first horror film, but I hope it's not his last. James and Schaech are also quite good in their roles. Both are appealing stars and do a great job of both being in love and slowly starting to hate each other. The movie looks good and feels claustrophobic, two things that are very important to the success of independent horror. Everything is in place for a strong little film, but as the plot really gets going, it becomes clear that there are a number of inconsistencies in the storytelling. The end of the film, after all of this, makes little sense. It seems botched instead of intentional. It's too bad, but an all too common issue that, despite its other charms, does a lot to sink the production.
Dark Circles arrives from Lionsgate with an acceptable DVD package. The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer looks good for standard definition, with good colors and decent detail. The darker scenes are occasionally muddy and the detail in those parts is lacking a little bit, but it's never too bad. Two sound mixes appear on this disc, a surround and a stereo track. Both perform fairly well, but they're pretty much the same. The surround mix has more going on in the low end and there is a bit of separation in the rear channels, but the stereo mix is just as clear and bright, with identical sounding dialog and music. The surround is preferred, of course, but there isn't enough variation to make a big difference.
For special features, we start with an audio commentary with Soler, Schaech, and horror blogger Ryan Turek. It's an amiable and enjoyable discussion, which gets into production details and tells a number of fun stories about the cast and crew. Analysis is kept to a minimum, but it's still a worthy commentary. The only other extra is a six minute behind-the-scenes featurette, which is insubstantial and doesn't give much more information than the commentary.
Dark Circles didn't grab me like I had hoped, but it's a good looking and relatively well executed thriller. I think that parents will understand the mania that is presented better than I did and Soler definitely shows some talent in the horror genre, but the often muddled storyline keeps me from being able to give it a particularly strong recommendation.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 86 Minutes
Release Year: 2013
MPAA Rating: Rated R