Written and Directed by: Paul Soter
Featuring: Pell James, Johnathon Schaech, Jenn Foreman
After the marketing blitz of the After Dark Horrorfest films, some of which were fun and others were abysmal, the production company decided to branch out into the original content arena. These releases, done on independent-film budgets and often leaving any real lasting impact, are straight-to-DVD horror films that are more suited to screening on a lazy weekend afternoon on the Chiller channel than anything that would become someone's new favorite film. Still, I've been a fan of Johnathon Schaech since The Doom Generation, so when I saw Dark Circles sitting on the new release shelf at my local video store, I picked it up.
Following in the footsteps of other recent horror releases like Baby Blues, Dark Circles fixates on the stress and pressure put upon new parents in the aftermath of an addition to the family. Alex (Schaech) is an up-and-coming musician, a pianist who is on the brink of breaking into the mainstream, and his beautiful and very pregnant blonde girlfriend, Penny (Pell James), is an interior designer who convinces him to move out of the city to a rural town three hours away to raise their first child. They find their perfect home and Penny gives birth to a little boy named Tanner; they are the picture-perfect family.
Unfortunately, no one told Penny and Alex that sometimes babies don't sleep through the night, and upon arrival into their new home Tanner begins to sob uncontrollably every fifteen minutes throughout the night. To make matters worse, the vacant lot on the edge of their property goes under construction the day they move in, so all day the young family is treated to an endless symphony of power tools and construction equipment. The new parents do everything they can to mollify their tot, but their efforts are in vain and after a few days, the weary couple begin to hallucinate. When eerie things begin to happen, Penny becomes convinced there is an evil spirit in the house, and Alex teeters on the brink of snapping as well. However, as the days continue to stretch on, neither can determine reality from their sleep-deprived waking nightmares, and it soon becomes clear that the couple and their infant are in danger.
While I hesitate to call Dark Circles a good watch, it was entertaining enough to keep my attention through the viewing. The acting is what we would expect from this level of talent, with Schaech playing a gently self-deprecating and funny aging hipster and James bringing a few rare gems of humanity to an otherwise one-note performance as the protective mother. Surprisingly, a girl who plays a much smaller role, Jenn Foreman, steals all her scenes as a sassy goth cashier at the supermarket who agrees to help out with babysitting for a night while the couple try to get some sleep. The cinematography is not offensive and there are some genuinely creepy moments, but unfortunately the film falls into its own clichés from the get-go. We are treated to montages of moving trucks and people unpacking boxes that go on for entirely too long (especially given how many times it's mentioned that they're moving into this new house) and all of the scares could've been taken from a textbook on haunted house films.
The spectral figure of the ghost isn't particularly threatening — she kind of looks like an ugly Megan Fox with bad dental work — and she doesn't do much for most of the film except appear and disappear at random jump scares. Tired tropes like a creepy rubber baby doll, a baby monitor picking up things it shouldn't, and "something scary being out of focus in the background but gone when the characters turn their heads" take center stage in this film, making it feel like the result of every recent haunted house movie being thrown into a blender and pureed into a bland mush. And of course there's a twist ending, because what would horror movies be these days without a twist ending? Unfortunately, the ending doesn't make a hell of a lot of sense and negates most of what was successfully creepy in the film's build-up, so I can't say it was a successful twist.
Overall, the movie strives to capture some of the delirious quality a new parent might face in unfamiliar surroundings, deprived of sleep and overcome with emotions and hormones…but, in truth, Dark Circles breaks no new ground and simply joins the rank of lukewarm, unremarkable original releases from After Dark.