If the basic setup and title of When Darkness Falls seem a bit familiar it’s probably because they aren’t that far removed from the classic British thriller And Soon the Darkness. Only instead of two British women cycling in France, here we have two Americans hiking across Scotland. As if any American would do that after seeing An American Werewolf in London. And while the plots do end up going in different directions, the influence shows.
School friends Andrea (Emma O’Hara, Tommy’s Honour) and Jess (Michaela Longden, The Jack in the Box: Awakening, Book of Monsters) drifted apart after graduation but have reconnected for a hiking trip. Stopping at a pub in the middle of nowhere they attract the attention of Nate (Nathan Shepka, Holiday Monday) and Tommy (Craig McEwan).
Andrea is quite happy about this but her companion has a bad feeling about them and after she can’t get her to leave, heads off on her own and then thinks better of it after ex-cop Beck (Ben Brinicombe, Definitive Therapy) chases off Tommy who had been stalking her. But when Jess gets back to the pub, Andrea has gone and nobody knows where she is.
Director Nathan Shepka and writer Tom Jolliffe (Van Helsing, The Leprechaun’s Curse) get the film off on the wrong foot with an opening scene that feels more like an info dump than anything else before spending a bit too much time wandering around the Highlands with Jess and Andrea. The dialogue is as bland as the scenery is breathtaking. And the scene where Andrea lifts her shirt to flash someone much to Jess’ disapproval is unintentionally funny. She’s wearing a bra that covers her from nipple to chest, in effect showing nothing more than her shirt did.
Thankfully once they reach town and Andrea goes missing When Darkness Falls kicks into gear to deliver some suspence and twists. Searching for her friend, Jess instead finds herself caught in a growing web of ill gotten loot, stolen and restolen money, murder and dead bodies. But in a film like this things are never quite what they seem and the real danger may come from the person Jess trusts the most.
I’ve reviewed several films written by Tom Jolliffe, but I’m fairly sure When Darkness Falls is the first one Scott Jeffrey wasn’t involved with. And while this is still a very low-budget, small-cast, production you can see the difference that having somebody who actually tries to avoid continuity errors, find proper locations, etc behind the film makes.
Which is not to say When Darkness Falls is without problems, it isn’t. At an hour and forty-five minutes, it runs long and needs a trim. Too many scenes of people walking around, hiding, etc are held too long and could be pared down, the same with some of the dialogue. At ninety to ninety-five minutes When Darkness Falls would flow better and have a proper pace.
And, like most thrillers When Darkness Falls has moments that make you shake your head at the characters’ actions. These are however kept to a minimum and the film stays in the realm of the probable for the most part. And that makes the final showdown all the more effective, although I think a close-range shotgun blast would do a lot more damage than we see here.
There’s enough done right to make When Darkness Falls worth a watch on a weekend afternoon. Viewers will find themselves second-guessing their choices of heroes and villains more than once as the plot unravels. It just should have been a bit quicker in doing so.