Mockumentaries are a surprisingly difficult genre of film to execute well. Often filmed in such a way so as to disguise a lower-than-average budget, mockumentaries take on the difficult task of portraying supposedly unstaged events in a way that both feels natural and is tonally effective. You can see those struggles realized in the first seasons of television shows such as Parks And Recreation and the U.S. version of The Office, where the showrunners struggled to find a comic center to their workaday sitcom. Attacking The Darkness is a film that feels like it draws upon those shows for inspiration, and while it also shares some of the sitcoms’ shortcomings, it eventually finds its strengths.
The mockumentary crew follows the exploits of Brady and Harmony Hope Bryant, an extremely Christian couple who want to make a film about the evils of tabletop role playing games. With an extremely modest budget of five-thousand dollars donated by the leader of their mega-church, the couple occupy the set of their film-in-progress and demonstrate not only their ineptitude at filmmaking, but their blatant sense of superiority to those who don’t subscribe to their beliefs.
The first half of Attacking The Darkness leans a little too heavily on the joke that these Christians are ignorant, hypocritical, emotionally broken people. It’s a funny joke, and it’s delivered well by the one-two combo of Brady’s soft-spoken, repressed homosexuality and Harmony Hope’s loud interpretation of her own insecurities as the sins of others. However, it’s a joke that becomes a bit stale the more it’s presented, and it really makes one start to wonder if that’s all the film has going for it.
Then, at about the halfway mark, something remarkable happens. Character dynamics start to emerge among the cast and crew. Many of the characters feel insubstantial during the first half, existing simply as talking heads reacting to the inanity of the Bryants’ controlling nature, but as time goes on, various personality quirks begin to emerge that make for very entertaining interactions. A church-based producer and a craft services worker begin flirting. A naïve young churchgoer co-opted into the leading role becoming unknowingly addicted to meth. A couple of gamers acting as consultants go out of their way to mess with the Bryants’ heads. The characters come alive once the Bryants stop being a solely antagonistic force of conflict, and even they begin to feel a bit more human before the credits start to role. And most importantly, it starts being funny again. The original Christian-supremacy joke is supplemented by various minor conflicts that tie into the central theme but don’t bluntly reemphasize it.
It’s in this way that Attacking The Darkness feels like it should have had the extended scope of a television season rather than the limited runtime of a feature film. Much like the beginnings of Parks And Rec and The Office, the central joke at first takes precedence over giving us entertaining and likable characters, but by the end the characters feel lived-in enough that it’s hard not to want to see more of them. The film’s ending doesn’t lend itself well to a continuation, but if director Christian Doyle and his writing team want to continue following even a couple of these characters in a sequel, I’m totally on board.