Dark Circles (2013)

In this house, no-one sleeps

Writer: Paul Soter
Director: Paul Soter

Dark Circles has musician Alex (Johnathon Schaech) and his wife Penny (Pell James) move out of the city with their new born child for a quiet life in the country. Unfortunately their life turns out to be anything but quiet; the baby refuses to sleep at night and during the day there is a noisy construction site next door. As if that wasn’t enough, the couple keep seeing – or thinking they see – a strange woman and dolls with mutilated faces.

It’s not particularly original as an idea, but it has potential. The combination of constant noise and lack of sleep results in frayed nerves, unpredictable behaviour and possible hallucinations. How much is real, how much is illusion?

Unfortunately the film doesn’t really pull together. It starts with what is clearly a dream sequence – a technique that is often used to get the audience to keep watching through a boring first act. So it is here. The initial sequence is superbly atmospheric, probably the best part of the film, but after that things get extremely dull for thirty minutes.

Once things do get moving Soter is clearly going for ‘slow burn’. Unfortunately the pacing is badly off and the whole thing never really gels. The idea of gradual mental collapse is fine, but Soter’s writing isn’t up to the task – The Babadook (2014) does it a lot better. And when two characters are seeing the same woman it’s difficult to keep the ‘is it real?’ line going. When the threat becomes clearly real it works better, however Soter then lets the pace drop back down again.

Then we get to the ending, where things are wrapped up with a lazy and not very believable infodump from the radio.

What made Dark Circles so disappointing for me is that in some ways it was really good; Soter has some great touches in his direction. There’s lots of foreshadowing, the circle motif is used nicely throughout the film and the opening sequence shows he knows how to do suspense. There are some really good individual scenes. Unfortunately on the larger scale his script is simply poor. Despite the positive moments Dark Circles fails to gel into a satisfying experience.