Nutshell: with cinematography and sound that definitely doesn’t scream “Shoestring Indie”, Attacking the Darkness gives a knowing wink to mockumentary fans and RPG aficionados. There are definite echoes of Christopher Guest films like For Your Consideration and Waiting for Guffman, though Darkness doesn’t have that same biting wit. Instead, Darkness gives more of a real-life vibe for their characters. Well, except for Harmony. She’s nuts. Recommended viewing for you next beer-fest with your tabletop buds. Grade: B+
“I’ve been trying to witness during work, but it’s hard to multitask.”
Back in the 80s, I remember hearing about how D&D was gonna send us all to hell. Don’t pass Go, don’t collect $200. Just a rocket straight down to the abyss. Kids like me shrugged and continued rolling our d20. But glibness aside, the “Satanic Panic” of the 80s was all too real, and while I was able to laugh it off back in school, I’m betting some adults weren’t laughing. There were folks who thought religious people thinking that games would lead to demonic possession were idiots bent on a theological world order, and religious fundamentalists who thought they were saving the world by screaming about magic and damnation. Same kinda thing happened back when Harry Potter first became a phenomenon (though apparently there are still “true believers” out there), but not to the extent of those crazy 80s nutters that thought the world was ending because I enjoyed painting miniatures.
With the 21st Century going overboard in every possible way known to man, is it any wonder there are religious…individuals who are trying to bring back the fear of evil with a capital E-VOL? Indie film Attacking the Darkness takes a look at religious zealotry, role playing games (RPGs), and the crazy world of low-budget indie filmmaking and asks, are these three things really so different? And I can’t hate ’em for that; gotta admit I “had” to attend D&D weeklies when I was really in the thick of my love of all things multi-sided. Probably like others feel the need to go to church every Sunday. And probably like my filmmaker buddies want to put things on celluloid (or digital. Do you.) Oh, Darkness definitely has a slant – lead “producer” Harmony is definitely three sandwiches short of a picnic – but I’ma go out on a limb and say that religious zealots aren’t their main audience goal.
The story? Hyper religious (and just plain hyper) Harmony Hope Bryant is determined to get the message out that role playing games are actually a fast-track to satanism and demonic posession. But how to get that out to the greatest number of folks possible? Make a film! Before you can round up Mickey Rourke and Judy Garland and say “Let’s put on a show!”, Harmony drags her husband Brady into her plan and asks their pastor over at Jupiter Ridge church for funding. Luckily for them, Pastor Cannon thinks it’s a great idea, and gives them five thousand dollars to go make their movie. Naturally, as with all films, things go way over budget and way over schedule, mostly due to Harmony’s fear of damnation and psychotic fixation of having a baby. As the cast and crew try to deal with Harmony’s demands, her sweet but über-closeted husband Brady and hapless Assistant Pastor Doug begin to connect with some of the crew.
Director Christian Doyle lets his cast of improv actors do their thing, and for the most part that works here. My only problem was with Harmony’s slow descent into baby madness, the intensity of which seemed out of nowhere. It showcased the ability actress Lauren O’Neill has to just jump in and go all out, though. Though her character is crazy, she’s a standout. Quieter performances by Brian Lewis as Brady, Chrise Ode as Doug, and Lisa Coronado as Lucy the craft services manager balance the histrionics and give Darkness its “The Office meets Waiting for Guffman” vibe.
Darkness lets characters follow their particular plotlines in their own way, without hitting viewers over the head with what’ll come next. My favorite sub-plot? Gotta be Jupiter Ridge intern Donnie, whose fresh faced innocence gets unraveled a bit after he spends time with the grips on set. (I’d give that actor props, but he’s not listed on IMDb.)
The film’s climax is a quiet one, and it’s refreshing break from the crazy. Then things start to unravel, and it’s back to the crazy that’s satisfying in a guilty pleasure kinda way. As things wrap up, there’s a mid credits scene that’s fun for the first minute, but goes on WAY too long. Seriously. What-were-they-thinking long. Harshed my mockumentary improv buzz long.
Best watched with your gaming group, or as a part of TableTop Day festivities. Beer optional but highly encouraged, especially for anyone who’s ever worked on a production. You’ll laugh, but you’ll also hear the choppers. I know I did.
[NOTE: I received a free online screener from the creators in exchange for an honest review. I received nothing else, not even a muffin from craft services.]