For the first time this millennium without a Lord of the Rings film laying waste to the competition or to look forward to, it is time for studios to hook in any crowds they can at this the “most wonderful time of year”. How can they do it? By scaring people, that’s how. Since when can one take liberties with Christmastime? I mean it’s not like red and green can be traded for blood red and gang green, can it? Is it inappropriate that a horror movie is opening nationwide on Jesus’ birthday? I thought about it, it really isn’t. Dimension struck gold before this time of year. Two times in row! How easily we forget Scream and Scream 2. But I’m sorry Dimension; you won’t see similar business this horror holiday.

Haunted house, check. Creepy kid who sees things, check. Dark flashes and music cues that are supposed to be scary but are seen coming a mile away, check. Release date near all Hallow’s Eve, nope. Easily predictable story and flat bland characters, thankfully no. Well, ‘tis the season to confuse the hell out of people. In a year where the Red Sox won the world series, Surviving Christmas opened before Halloween, and now Darkness debuting on Christmas Day, it’s easy to say the world is officially gone upside down. Next thing you know they’ll be making a sequel to The Mask.

Forty years after cult-like ritual killings occur in rural Spain, Mark (Iain Glen) and his family move into a house close to his doctor father (Giancarlo Gianinni). As various bizarre events transpire, resulting in the hospitalization of Mark and leaving his son Paul (Stephen Enquist) all bruised, it is up to Mark’s daughter Regina (Anna Paquin) and her friend Carlos (Fele Martínez) to solve the mystery behind the strange phenomena that surround the family house. As long as there is light, there is safety. When there is darkness...there is death.

As much as Darkness is a kind of Pitch Black in a haunted house, it still manages to be remotely entertaining. Even with the now standard stereotypical clairvoyant little child role, it still seems pretty original. This is supposed to be a “scary movie”, so where are the scares? The elements are there. The story and performances are pretty solid, the creepy gags work quite often, there just aren’t enough frights. It’s all nail biting suspense with no out-of-the-blue-shit-in-your-pants moment. Were there at least one loud BOOM and it was simply an “I didn’t mean to scare you” kind of a horror flash, then Darkness would’ve been worth all the build up. The ending is clever, but it also too dreary to really be the cool one last scream before credits ending. Rather it simply raises an eyebrow at best.

I give credit where it is due, the film stuck to its guns. The mood and atmosphere is appropriately...well dark. It’s just the right kind of blackness that works; there are countless movies where all the lights are off in the house yet everything is conveniently moonlit. Darkness has great darkness.

Anna Paquin (X-Men, A Walk on the Moon) does a pretty good job as this film’s scream queen. Since Paquin has some acting chops, it’s easier to see her as a character rather than as a random WB teen cutie hired to run and shriek wearing tight tops. The rest of the cast are made up of some familiar faces. Giancarlo Gianinni (Hannibal) plays Dr. Rua, grandfather of “Regina” and “Paul” and Iain Glen (Lara Croft: Tomb Raider) is the troubled son of Dr. Rua. Everybody here fits; I’m just not sure why it takes place in Spain. I mean...everyone speaks English and all the accents sound Italian. Strange.

Darkness came at the wrong time. It would’ve been more suited in October. It isn’t a bad movie, but at the same time it isn’t good either. The story is strong, the cast does a decent enough job, and the suspense is there but this “scary movie” just isn’t scary. Though this flick isn’t the “scariest” movie to come out this year, at the very least its quality far surpasses The Grudge. Perhaps director Jaume Balagueró should have taken a page out of that Japanese book and cranked the sound mix up several decibels. Darkness may be worth a rent next “Trick or Treat” season, but turn the volume up... maybe then you’ll really be scared.