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Saturday, September 14, 2013

DANIKA -- movie review by porfle

(NOTE: This review originally appeared online in 2006 at

DANIKA (2006) is one of those wickedly suspenseful "Twilight Zone"-type psychological thrillers that you know is going to have a twist ending, so all you can do is hope that you're not going to be disappointed with it. In this case, the ending doesn't make you do a mental doubletake like THE SIXTH SENSE or FIGHT CLUB, but it does tie up all the loose ends in a satisfying way and make you feel as though it was worth sitting through all the build-up.

Marisa Tomei gives a very effective performance as Danika Merrick, a devoted mother of three who is happily married to Randy (Craig Bierko, THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT), but whose constant fear that the evils of the world are closing in on her and her family is causing her to have vivid paranoid delusions that are gradually destroying her life. This isn't helped by the fact that every time she looks at a TV, she sees news bulletins about school buses exploding or children being abducted.

To make matters worse, a little girl she encounters on the sidewalk one day with a man she assumes is the father turns up in a news report about the discovery of a missing child's body, and Danika's guilt over not being able to help her results in her being haunted by frightening visions of the dead girl.

On the home front, Danika fears she's losing control of her own children as well. Her daughter Lauren (Nicki Prian) shocks her one evening by asking her what the "C" word (rhymes with Allen Funt) means, claiming she read it in a book assigned by her English teacher, Mrs. Zachary--and then shocks her again by saying, "I wish she would die a horrible death."

Danika storms off to the school for a parent-teacher meeting and faints dead away when Mrs. Zachary turns out to be the owner of a head Danika saw in one of her grotesque delusions (which is one of the really good "gotcha" scares of the movie). Later, the teacher assures her she wouldn't dream of assigning such a book to her students. Moments later, Danika imagines seeing the same teacher's violent death after a sheet of plate glass falls on her from above and slices her throat.

Meanwhile, her oldest son Kurt (Kyle Gallner) is spending more and more time "studying in his room" with Myra (Danay Garcia), a really (really) hot Spanish exchange student, whom Danika later catches giving Kurt a biology lesson that isn't in the textbook and throws her out. Myra shows up again later on in her skimpies, lying beside Danika in bed and shooting up heroin before flinging off her bra and heading off to Kurt's room to "study" some more. So, while Danika's delusions grow increasingly disturbing to her, they are often quite entertaining for us in various ways.

Needless to say, Danika feels compelled to seek psychiatric help. But Evelyn (Regina Hall) strikes her as too young and inexperienced to relate to her problems, and the sessions eventually end up serving little purpose besides giving Danika a chance to describe to us some of the stuff that's going on in her head. In one of these episodes, Danika goes into a store to buy a videogame for her youngest son and then, after viewing another horrifying news bulletin on a bank of display TVs, she turns around and suddenly finds herself seemingly the only person left in the world.

This is especially reminiscent of "The Twilight Zone", or the 1962 low-budget classic CARNIVAL OF SOULS, another film about a woman who is steadily losing her grip on reality and descending into a nightmare world. But although Evelyn may be ineffectual as a psychiatrist, she will return in a very unexpected way.

During all this I found myself wondering if Danika was simply losing her marbles, or if there was going to be some supernatural explanation--either of which would have been fine with me if handled properly. What I definitely didn't want (and was afraid I was going to get) was to find out that the whole thing was a plot to drive her crazy, concocted by her husband and his mistress in order to get rid of her (especially when we discover that Danika's husband once had an affair with their children's nanny).

Movies with this storyline usually end up going too far, with the plot to drive the husband/wife insane having to be unbelievably and often impossibly complex to explain all the various things that are made to happen in order to drive him/her nuts. (HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL comes to mind, although I forgive that movie its logical lapses because it's just so much fun.) Plus, that sort of plot twist is just way too predictable these days because we've seen it so many times before.

Thankfully, DANIKA doesn't go that route. She's definitely either going insane or suffering from something malevolently supernatural. I'll let you find out which, and hopefully you'll enjoy getting there as much as I did. By the end, when everything started falling into place, it was like the feeling you get when you fit the last piece into a jigsaw puzzle and finally get to see the whole picture, and it seems as though doing so was time well-spent. Unfortunately for Danika, though, it isn't a very happy picture.

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