Before I even begin to insult the participants in Darkon by giving them verbal swirlies and literary locker-stuffings, I must digress for a moment and recognize how tragic this whole thing is. These people are sad. Instantly, their appearances betray them and spell out their predictable pasts, then they exceed our prejudices by opening their mouths. Sure, I find their hobby silly, but to each his own. I’ve participated in paintball. I probably invest a little too much of my company’s time on fantasy football. I play video games here and there. I’m a bit fond of the booze. The distinction is that these things are distractions, not total escape. Herein lies the issue–these people do not like who they are at all. That isn’t haha dorky, that is downright depressing. Every single person you’re introduced to in this movie insists the same thing…”here, I am in control.”
Darkon is an imaginary realm spanning the mysterious kingdom of suburban Maryland. It is inhabited by several factions who are tenuosly at peace, but the most dominant faction, we’ll call them Team Airball, is starting to wear on the weaker groups who don’t like being the Nerds of the Nerds. Team Airball is led by the strongest personality to be found in Darkon and much of the film is concerned with him. We’ll call him Chaz because he’s the closest thing to Alpha available, plus he has a job where he gets to do Power Point presentations.
Out of the scrub factions, one is seeking to unify a resistance against the fair, but heavy-handed rule of Team Airball. We’ll call them Asthma Squad. This group is led by a power-hungry upstart called Hamhammer. This guy is the real gem of the film. First of all, he is a stay-at-home Dad. Fine, its the zeroes (how appropriate) or whatever term we use to denote this decade, but you really get the feeling that the home situation is the way it is because this guy isn’t quite fit to be the rock of the family, Darkon notwithstanding.
Hamhammer’s father was the owner of some successful D&D-style gaming company and he and his brother were destined to take it over when the father ran out of Life Potions. But Hamhammer fucked it all up. In some corporate context, he punched his brother in the face for some spaz reason I don’t recall, and was then cut out of the business. This, in itself, hints at some real issues. The guy is literally handed a business perfectly suited to his one notable strength and he completely blows it. Now he vacuums and feeds the kids, but doesn’t do it like he means it–he’s only really alive when he’s involved in Darkon or is crushing his boys’ pussy-getting futures with his fantasy-based recipe for existential failure.
There is some plot beneath all the exposition. Hamhammer wants to topple Chaz so the people of Darkon can be free. I’m not quite certain how brutal a dictatorship Chaz-led Team Airball can be, given that Darkon only rocks every other Sunday, but fuck it, if there’s no unrest, there’s conflict and if there’s no conflict, there’s no excuse for four hundred people to death-charge and then clumsily donk each
other with foam swords at the local soccer field. Early on, we are treated to the early stages of this brewing conflict which involves Hamhammer and Chaz stammering through some delicious and certainly prepared bullshit about “nooses tightened around necks” and “you have long been an ally of our kingdom, but no longer!” Then they yell “Hail ____!” to their appropriate patron gods and leave to go plot and talk shit about each other, often beyond actual Darkon concerns…”He thinks he’s so cool, but won’t after he’s lost the Barony”-type stuff.
It’s definitely not all pretend. These guys are jockeying for serious clout, they just do it in a ridiculous fashion because the real world sure as hell ain’t dumping Gatorade on them. Hamhammer and a life-long friend really have it out at Denny’s.
So this thread runs through the whole film, building of course, to a final battle for Darkon. Escalation, alliances, a skirmish or two to show the downtrodden gaining steam, etc. A pretty contrived plot for a bunch of people who juke reality at every opportunity.
We are treated along the way to some additional escapists peripheral to the looming apocalypse. There is a world-weary looking single mother–she doesn’t look like a total stranger to meth. I’d imagine the father ditched her the moment the strip turned blue and I can’t really blame him, despite my own searing hatred of deadbeat dads. She lives with her mother and was most recently employed as an exotic dancer… I suppose ugly can be a form of exotic. We’ll refer to her as El Camino, a fitting stripper name for white trash. Anyway, she seems really bitter. I see her as fleeing to something like Darkon, as opposed to the other participants, who were pretty much destined to be a part of it. It’s not unlike how Christians and white power groups prey on the hopeless. In this, El Camino might be the saddest of all because it doesn’t seem like her heart is in it. She’s there to push her tits up, get attention and feel empowered. The fantasy angle is immaterial to her. El Camino wants real world female sway, but can only get it at the bi-weekly clown convention. We do see her triumph somewhat whe she gets her own apartment at the age of…30? You try and count the rings on a meth user.
The final person that drew notable focus was a young man. He is overweight, awkward in every movement and has an effeminate voice. I also assume he has a broken-hearted father. We will call him Staggersauras. As with everybody in this movie, appearance tells the story. Stag is bullied in school, has no friends and has probably experienced women with no more than three of his five senses. He is so sad that he is pretty much a fringe dweller…a loner in fucking Darkon!
We get to see him working at Starbucks (poorly), laying in tall grass on his belly with his legs kicked up like he’s daydreaming about Kirk Cameron and we get to see him in the heat of battle where he’s a healer meaning he doesn’t even get to wail on anybody, which is the closest thing Darkon has to real purpose. The saddest of the sad. There won’t be any surprised neighbors when they hear the news story ending with “…and then turned the gun on himself.”
With a good cross-section of citizens now puzzling the viewer, we return for the final showdown between Asthma Squad and Team Airball. Hamhammer has rallied some support for his cause and is planning an all-out assault on Chaz’s army which is holed up in The Cathedral of…The Cathedral of Dick, fuck if I remember a single name in this movie. The COD is a large plywood fortress that appears to have taken quite a bit of effort to erect. Picture being a rich kid and saying “Daddy, I want Helm’s Deep!” and you get the idea.
A brilliantly strategic straight-charge on the Cathedral is called by Hamhammer. Dark Elf Mercenaries guard the rear with catapults, 3000
Pogs for their allegiance–oh yeah, they’re all in Blackface. Chaz stands confidently on his ramparts, watching as his archers dribble heavily-foamed arrows onto the enemy. The Cathedral is breached! Melee ensues! What’s this? The Dark Elves are raining catapult fire on Hamhammer’s army! Traitorous dogs, bought off by the superior bankroll of Team Airball! The ranks are breaking! Asthma Squad is in disarray!
Asthma Squad is routed!
…there is only one thing left to settle matters for good. The two Leaders must engage each other. Chaz vs. Hamhammer. The fate of Darkon lies in the outcome. The two square off, surrounded by hundreds of onlookers. Shields and weapons in hand, they circle each other and then…fight as adeptly as the Tin Man vs. C3PO. Fucking pussies. These guys are the dominant males and are really obsessed with this power struggle and they fight with the ferocity of two kids in Sumo Suits. At the very least, Chaz wins, so there is no feel-good ending in case you were actually concerned with the fates of any of these miscreants to begin with.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Darkon. In my heart, I wanted two hours of “Lightning Bolt! Lightning Bolt!” What I got was some good laughs at other’s expense–the rules of foam combat explained, the rousing speeches delivered with no charisma, the Battle of the Pellenor Soccer Field–but I also got to see something strange. You anticipate that these people will be freaks, but you don’t anticipate pitying them, especially considering the Darkon documentary was made by them and would presumably reach propoganda-like levels of self-aggrandizing nerd absurdity. Then you realize that such beavior is impossible for these people. In character, they can ape confidence, but when it comes to describing their true selves, they are totally defeated. I ended up feeling bad for them because it was so natural and effortless for them to reveal their weakness.
Instead of cheap entertainment, I was ultimately reminded of long-ago days of getting pummeled, perhaps humiliated and being afraid, sometimes for long clips. Those hard days passed with pre-13 youth and now I look on them as valuable and character-building. It taught me
that the world can be needlessly cruel and unfair, but also that I should control as much of it as possible. It taught me to hate the
constant victim as well as avoid the bore who strolled through a saltine life.
Looking at these people, I see that they never dusted themselves off from those days. They cried in the mud until they were too pitiful to beat on, they slinked from class-to-class so as to always be under the safe eye of a teacher, their parents barely contained their shame as they watched their kid perform none of the traditional social stations of growing up, instead decorating their loneliness with fantasy where they were remarkable. The worst thing is that Darkon should be a triumph for the participants, when all it ends up being is an unintentional cry for help because, even in the manufactured reality that they all so boldly proclaim to control, they are still refugees from the real world where they can’t quite cut it… yep, even you, Chaz.