English Canada isn't particularly famous for its filmmaking scene aside from hubs like Toronto and Vancouver serving as cheaper backdrops for American productions though, most recently, Orphan Black (2013-) has shed light on just how good Canadian filmmaking can be when given the proper tools to succeed. I view our Northern brothers as an unlimited and untapped source for cinematic possibility.
And so, the Canadian made horror anthology Darknet (2013-) has finally piqued my interest after gathering virtual dust in the ol' Netflix queue. I keep emphasizing the Canadian part because it, rather refreshingly, is not trying to masquerade the location as anything else. The show is set in Toronto, with a few of the stories navigating the familiar landscape, both in daytime and night. In fact, my biggest complaint is that the landscape isn't used enough. It has just as much character as any other metropolitan city for transitioning from skyscrapers, to brownstones, to the seedy outskirts you wouldn't want to be caught wondering alone or otherwise as darkness falls.
Darknet is a supposedly anonymous website where people can post and/or engage with grotesque videos while chatting on a message board about the content. It varies from staged snuff films, to gory accidents filmed on phones, to security camera footage. The aim is to tie all these "random" incidents not just to Darknet or the city, but to a group of people whose lives become intertwined because of the site whether as perpetrators of crimes, the victims, the voyeurs or, in some cases, all of the above.
As with any show presented in such format, some stories are downright fantastic while others feel merely slapped together, or worse, emerge as entirely incoherent. Questions arise. Is Darknet exclusive to Toronto? Because all of the content presented for the lurkers is not just country specific, it's confined to one city. When someone posts an address for a gruesome clue, another user exclaims, "That's close!" and quickly vespas to the location. Why are some stories fleshed out completely when others are abruptly shut down? There are attempts to reintroduce characters within each other's narratives, but not a single one gels as it should.
One problem may be that Darknet is an adaptation of the Japanese horror anthology Torihada (2010-) and although the makers tailored some of the material, they failed to connect the dots. There is a clear and simple way to masterfully link these episodes together, or make them stand alone, but this seasoned crew gets inexplicably and unforgivably lazy.
My heart bleeds for this series because of its potential. To give a taste of what's in store - a harassed med student turns the tables on her stalker; a lonely business woman performs a window striptease for what she thinks is a peeping tom across the street (she is gravely mistaken); a man tries to order a slew of bombshell escorts only to have the same strange woman knock on his door. There are many more snippets from the lives of seemingly ordinary people and, at least on paper, they are a gold mine of nightmarish storytelling. At 25 minutes an episode, it's Goosebumps for adults; a gritty, urban take on Tales from the Crypt; a re-imagining of The Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents with added gore of the V/H/S series. But, that's just a taste of what could have been. What we are left with is a fast food, cheap takeout version of a gourmet endeavor.
During one close-up of a severely bloodied character, my first thought was, why is their syrup so runny, transparent, and brown? Come on, folks, if you are serious about making horror, at least don't scrimp on the blood!