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Fantastic Fest 2014: ‘Darkness by Day’ is both lethargic and empty

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Darkness by Day 
Written by Josefina Trotta
Directed by Martin Desalvo
Argentina, 2013

With a scant running time of 76 minutes, Darkness by Day cannot afford to waste any time in revealing  its story. Regardless of such tight constraints, though, the film spends most of its time on uninspired dialogue and vague character interactions. It claims to be a horror story, but its moments of fear are often too fleeting to have much of an effect.

Most of the story is set in a cavernous house that resides in a small Spanish village. In the film’s opening moments, Virginia (Mora Recalde) says goodbye to her father, who is traveling to visit his ill niece. Shortly after he departs, a man carries an unconscious woman to Virginia’s front door. He says that the girl is unwell and needs a place to rest. Virginia allows her to be carried inside.

Almost the entire first half of the story is focused on the interactions between these two women, which is remarkable considering how little is learned about either of them. Anabel, the woman who was unconscious, is Virginia’s cousin, a fact that is only revealed after several mundane conversations. Her backstory is left incredibly unclear (she makes brief references to being depressed and dropping out of school). Virginia herself is just as much of an elusive character. When Anabel asks her what she does for a living, she simply replies that she is in charge of everything that takes place in the house. Such a statement is quite confounding considering that Virginia spends most of her screen time sleeping.

Surrounding these dull characters are the indistinct elements of a mystery story. Virginia is frequently plagued by nightmares; Anabel sneaks out to the woods in the middle of the night; dead animals begin to appear around the perimeter of the house. Moments such as these are peppered throughout the film, but they never meld into a cohesive story. It is only in the final ten minutes that everything becomes moderately more interesting. Despite this last minute stimulation, though, the story still languishes immensely. Much like its heroine, Darkness by Day can most often be found asleep.

– Jacob Carter

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