Eye For Film >> Movies >> Darkness Falls (2020) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
The first thing one notices about Anderson Falls is its beautiful framing. It’s a film full of flat landscapes and straight lines, a celebration of symmetry and order. The problem is that its plot is similarly linear, with no significant twists along the way.
It begins with a killing. Elizabeth (Vahina Giocante) is at home with her son Frankie (capable newcomer Judak Mackey), who is sleeping, when two men break in and force her, at gunpoint, to swallow pills, saying they will hurt her son if she doesn’t cooperate. Her subsequent death is assumed by the police to be a suicide but her husband Jeff (Shawn Ashmore), himself a detective, has misgivings. Why does Frankie say he saw a man in his room that night? Was it just a dream? When he encounters another case which looks eerily similar, he becomes convinced that his wife was murdered.
Of course, nobody will believe him, and that’s where the film’s problems start. He’s another depressed, alcoholic detective steering a maverick course of his own whilst viewers sit there, frustrated, waiting for the parts of this story they’ve seen countless times before to be over so that something interesting can happen. There’s some relief by way of a strong supporting performance from Lin Shaye, managing to make her clumsily written dialogue sound natural, but by the time that Jeff starts to make progress, many viewers will have lost their goodwill towards the film. During its première at Glasgow Frightfest, this led to some rather unfortunate laughter.
The trouble is that for all its visual elegance, Anderson Falls features some clichéd dialogue and leaden delivery. Its plot developments are either exactly what any viewer of TV cop shows would expect or reliant on Jeff’s completely unsupported genius detective instincts, which are simultaneously infallible and, well, quite silly. A scene in which Ashmore shouts at some pictures does not invite the empathy for his suffering that director Julien Seri presumably thought it would. Jeff is trying to get inside the minds of the killers – again, par for the course – and this is taking him to some dark places, but the good work done around this theme is undermined by such displays. And what is it with serial killers and collage, anyway? Are they all, at heart, frustrated artists?
Underneath all this awkwardness, more interesting things are happening. The killers (this isn’t really a spoiler as it’s revealed early on) are a father/son team, and as he obsesses over tracking them down, Jeff struggles to maintain a healthy bond with his own son, raising questions about culpability and the troubles we inherit from our parents. Then there’s the killers’ misogyny. It’s a shame that writer Giles Daoust tries to explain this as it’s so prevalent in society that no complex reason is required, but it creates a current of uneasiness in a film where Jeff is accused of staking and the male characters have very little meaningful power beyond their ability to destroy. Although female characters are pushed to the sidelines of peremptorily removed, they are the ones doing the practical day to day work of keeping things running. the only thing Jeff has to contribute is his ability to take on other men who may not, in the end, be all that different from him.
All in all, Anderson Falls is a curious beast with some serious failings but a lot of potential. Some viewers will love it for reasons its director did not intend; some will find it a satisfying enough police procedural; and others will be left trying to overlook its clumsiness in order to appreciate its beauty.Reviewed on: 13 Mar 2020