In the process of selecting films for the screening committee, one member said (paraphrased) “Sometimes, I think we place too much emphasis on technique and visual style when there are some interesting stories being told with a smaller budget and inadequate style.” To me, this almost describes the mumblecore movement where faux naturalism and dialogue are substituted for plot and, arguably, style. In a way, the low budget gay movie When Darkness Falls is like a queer version of The Duplass Brothers’ Baghead, a mumblecore movie about four actors in a cabin in the woods being “stalked” by a guy with a bag over his head.
Here, it’s not four actors in a cabin in the woods, but a few guys who end up in a very nice house in the woods. Kevin (Mike Dolan), an author from the city, invites his new guy Danny (Matt Austin) on a date to his family’s place out in the middle of nowhere. While on the porch, Kevin frightens Danny with myths about ghosts and zombies related to the nearby cemetery. Apparently frightening your date functions as foreplay before the dinner and sex portion of the evening (actually, being scared might work on me). Life has other plans when Danny sees a creeper outside and hears noises coming from around the house. Is Danny imagining everything because Kevin’s stories scared the shit out of him? Or, is there really something out there?
With a plot this basic, and a run time this short (a mere 67 minutes), execution really matters. Kevin is able to deliver the stories with the right amount of nonchalance to freak out the audience along with audience surrogate Danny. The camera slowly tightens and skews as the characters are stalked, effectively ratcheting the tension in a decidedly pleasant manner for a movie this unassuming. When Darkness Falls isn’t the type of movie to win accolades or awards – the plot is too unassuming, the budget is too low, and the prosumer technology back then was too low quality – but, it creates a low-fi creepy atmosphere to pass the time. Though there is some making out and shirtlessness, When Darkness Falls still provides a nicely chaste counterpoint to the other queer horror sexfests from earlier this week (not every queer movie has to be sex sex sex). So long as you’re not looking for anything more than the goosing of a carnival haunted house ride, When Darkness Falls works as a pleasantly OK horror movie.
The DVD of When Darkness Falls also includes a second queer horror short, but that one is a very mixed bag. The Best of Care is a 27 minute short about some guy caring for his lover who is dying of some mysterious debilitating disease. The sick lover is rich but has been dying and bed-ridden for years without hospice care. His healthy lover is waiting on him hand and foot like a slave while the sick one is needier and needier as resentments build. But, the lover can’t leave because…he wants the inheritance? The DVD case weirdly calls them brothers, but in the movie they’re obviously former lovers. This short is way too long for its plot and requires some sort of emotional connection between the two leads. Sadly, the actors have no chemistry, the camera work is even less ambitious than the camerawork for When Darkness Falls (protip: shorts rely on camerawork more than features because of the condensed time), and the rote nature of the story just slogs along for ages.