Also Known As
Cold Earth
Directed By Frank Falco
UK/2008 – 101 Minutes/Widescreen
DVD Provided by MTI Home Video
Article written by Craig Hamann

A little girl is apparently kidnapped right out of her own home. Her celebrity parents, a famous race car driver and his actress wife, call the police. Detectives Farrell and Radcliff investigate and find similarities between this abduction and several kidnapping/murder cases where the victims were children. As a result, they begin running down leads on a suspected serial killer. But as the evidence mounts, Detective Farrell is haunted by ghosts from his tormented past. And at least one of his ghosts isn’t just a bad memory but an actual ghost that is trying desperately to tell him something. Finally, Farrell realizes that the kidnapped girl might still be alive and he’s also aware that he’s running out of time. Can he find the girl before she becomes another victim? Is the ghost that he’s seeing friendly or evil? And who is the serial killer and will the murderer strike again?

While the plot sounds like it should be a cool mystery with a paranormal twist, the move strangely becomes retread material that is tired and uninspired. This is a confusing letdown. On paper there really doesn’t seem to be a reason for DARK SECRETS to be anything but a tight little suspense flick. The ingredients for success should be there. Yes, it’s low budget, but there is still some budget, regardless how meager it is. Lack of funds cannot be the sole excuse here. I’ve seen no-budget thrillers strike more nerves than this project does. Perhaps there is a time element to go with the low budget. I say that because some scenes have a rushed feel to them. Frank Falco’s direction is quite obviously professional enough, but where’s the passion? He wrote and directed this movie. It should be his baby, yet there are times when it comes off as a by-the-numbers assignment piece. Although the title contains the word “dark” in it, many scenes are over-lit and seem stagy, even including some of the location shots. I think the screenplay is probably better than the final product, but it too has its own set of problems. While the story has some twists and turns, and a few of them definitely work, there are also bloated moments of digression where characters spew out exposition for far too long. Finally, although the screenplay calls for some jump scare moments, few of them end up having any visual impact.

The acting is a disappointment as well. This may not be what some would call an A-list cast, but there is plenty of experience on hand. It’s not so much that anyone offers a bad individual performance, but rather how they relate to each other that is below par. Gary Daniels is effective as Darryl Van Dyke, the race car driving father, and Kate Thurlwell isn’t bad as his wife Lori. However, there is virtually no connection between them, not a calorie of chemistry, which makes the pairing seem artificial. The same can be said for Steven Elliot as Detective Farrell and Ben Schockley as Detective Radcliff. These are two usually reliable actors, but here there is no spark to be found between them, even though Radcliff is supposedly deeply concerned about his partner’s emotional state.

The transfer seems to be only so-so. Some of the scenes are far too hot and washed out. Admittedly, there are opticals and other effects applied to the visuals and that can always stir the pot. Still, the color timing and tonal quality aren’t where they need to be. Some of this could be the result of this project being a DV production. That’s not to say the movie isn’t watchable. It’s just that the transfer doesn’t help things. The Dolby Stereo sound is okay but not great. There are times when it’s difficult to understand what an actor is saying. For whatever reason, this is particularly true with some of Steven Elliot’s dialogue. Because this is a screening copy, the DVD contained no extras, aside from a trailer.

I admit that I’ve been a bit harsh with this movie. That’s mostly because I feel there is little need or reason for it to have limped so badly through its 101 minutes. It appears as if there is enough talent on both sides of the camera to make things work. However, there are far too many filler scenes, a deluge of flat expositional dialogue that is uninteresting and oftentimes trite, and there seems to be little, if any, chemistry between any of the actors. Adding insult to injury is a mundanely melodramatic musical score that routinely squashes any morsel of suspense that appears in the movie. The final result is a mediocre suspense flick that I can’t really recommend to genre fans.