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by Thomas M. Sipos, managing editor [April 21, 2022]





[]  Twenty years ago, I was a judge for the World Horror Convention's film festival in Chicago. I've seen many horror shorts since then, but never forgot Eduardo Rodriguez's Daughter, which he directed while a student at Florida State University.

The 2002 World Horror Con's Audience Award went to The Spooky Incident. It should have gone to Daughter. Rodriguez's depiction of Hell at film's end is especially arresting and unforgettable. Thus when I saw a nearly identical depiction of Hell in Darkness, I knew it had to be from the same filmmaker.

The Darkness of the Road expands upon a concept first broached in Daughter. Darkness begins with a young mother, Siri (Najarra Townsend) committing suicide. A shot to the head. Then she awakens in a car. Was it all a dream?

Siri is alone on a highway in the American desert. (The poster art has pine trees, but no trees in the film.) It's night. No other cars on the road. Her daughter, Eve (Gwyneth Glover), asleep on the back seat. Why has Siri stopped?

She commences driving, tries to play some music on her CD player, but it won't work. She stops at a gritty gas station manned by a creepy redneck (Johnny Whitworth). The sort of gas station that seems stuck in the 1950s. It's the only sign of life in the desert.

Siri picks up Iris (Leah Lauren), a hitchhiker. Another young mother, it turns out. But Iris killed her daughter. A mercy killing, according to Iris, because her daughter was incurably sick and in great pain. Iris asks what sort of God would allow a child to live a life of pain?

Siri's car breaks down in the desert. Eve has disappeared from the back seat. Strange creatures -- demons? -- appear at times to frighten Siri, but just as quickly disappear. Why won't the sun come up?

Savvy horror fans will realize that Siri is either suffering a nightmare or trapped in a supernatural realm. Many fans will think, oh another Jacob's Ladder retread. They won't be entirely wrong.

The bulk of this short (84 minutes) feature film is Siri and Iris alone in the desert. Eve and demons make occasional appearances, but it's mostly the two women talking, reacting in fear, or arguing. A few incidental surprises are revealed, but the overall story arc is predictable.

Actually, I quite like this type of horror. What I call minimalist horror. Just a few people in an isolated setting, terrorized by an unseen threat, more implied than explicit. Bright Hill Road and Coherence qualify.

Cinematographer John DeFazio provides Darkness with some powerful compositions. Such as when Siri walks into the darkness holding a flare, and the frame is canted 90 degrees, so that she is walking along the left edge of the screen. Then, when her flare is but a tiny red dot, seemingly without cutting, she continues into a frame that is no longer canted.



Is there an aesthetic motivation for this canted frame and seemingly seamless cut? Perhaps to emphasize how disoriented Siri feels in her situation.

Darkness offers many cool shots. The Argento-inspired nondiegetic colored lights, though overdone in modern horror films, is another plus. Blues, reds, greens, and yellows glow throughout, often from no rational light source. At one point a bright yellow light shines on Siri's lonely car parked in the highway. I suppose it can be the moon, yet then why is everything around the car in darkness?



Daughter is about a mother who murders her daughter, then commits suicide. The Darkness of the Road, same story. But in Daughter, no reason is given for the mother's actions. She deserves to be in Hell. Darkness gives a more sympathetic portrayal of Siri, who (like Iris, hint, hint) claims to have mercy-killed Eve, to spare her a life of pain. Siri remains unrepentant, saying that spending eternity in Hell is worth it to spare Eve of suffering.

Essentially, Daughter affirms the righteousness of Hell, while The Darkness of the Road questions the righteousness of God. Rodriguez had nearly twenty years between films to struggle with his concept. Whether he's had a change of heart, or merely fleshed out what he already believed, or yielded to marketing experts who wanted a more sympathetic protagonist, I don't know.

The Darkness of the Road presents common horror tropes in a slick package, tied together with provocative themes. Acting, production values, and pacing are first rate. An unsettlingly entertaining horror film. Be sure to watch Daughter as well, if you can catch it.


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