The Darkness of the Road begins in the early morning darkness, beside a stretch of road that looks so empty and barren it almost feels like it has to be a soundstage. But it’s not, and after waking with a start Siri (Najarra Townsend, Dementia: Part II, Cold Feet) checks on her sleeping daughter Eve (Gwyneth Glover, Home Again) starts up her ancient car and heads on down the road.
A stop at an all night gas station yields a meeting with a creepy old man and a slightly less creepy but still disconcerting attendant (Johnny Whitworth, 3:10 to Yuma, Gamer). She also meets Iris (Leah Lauren, Adult Life) who she somewhat reluctantly agrees to give a ride to. Not long after they leave the gas station a strange creature runs in front of the car. After the ensuing panic stop they discover that somehow, Eve has vanished from the back seat. And the car won’t start again, they’ll have to look for her on foot.
Writer/director Eduardo Rodriguez (You’re Not Alone, Fright Night 2) establishes a creepy vibe right from the start. It’s one anyone who has ever driven through the middle of nowhere at night can relate to. It’s bad enough driving through a forest, at least you can see the trees. But a stretch of desert or prairie where all you see outside the car is blackness, that’s a whole different level of creepy.
After the women become stranded, The Darkness of the Road looks like it’s going to turn into a supernatural take on Cujo as whatever the creature is circles the stalled station wagon. Instead, Rodriguez goes in a different direction as things go from frightening to weird starting with Eve’s blanket reappearing in the back seat, only with a doll under it instead of the little girl.
With Siri seemingly passing in and out of consciousness, having bizarre dreams, hallucinations or possibly flashbacks the film takes on a feeling of unreality separate from the events happening in what seems to be reality. At times with it’s shifting sense of what is and isn’t real combined with the creature(s) The Darkness of the Road reminded me of Jacob’s Ladder. At others, especially with its desert highway setting and a sequence involving the smell of rotten meat, it brought Reeker and its sequel to mind.
Rodriguez makes good use of camera angles, lighting and filters to help suggest that strange forces are at play. With its small cast and limited settings The Darkness of the Road gives every indication of having been shot on a shoestring. Since that means keeping the effects to a minimum, it’s an efficient and effective way of building the film’s atmosphere and sense of dread.
Less efficient is the looming storm and constant flashes of lightning in the distance. Some of the louder cracks of thunder may work as jump scares, but the symbolism of the coming storm has been used far beyond the point of being cliché.
The Darkness of the Road also benefits from a pair of good performances from Townsend and Lauren. For most of the film, they are the cast, Townsend especially as she’s in almost every scene. They convincingly convey their characters’ fear and confusion throughout the film and wisely resist the urge to go over the top during the film’s moments that require hysterics.
An eerie and atmospheric little film, and I mean little in the best possible way, The Darkness of the Road, premieres on DVD and Digital platforms on December 14th from Uncork’d Entertainment. You can check their Facebook page for more information.