By Owen Gleiberman
Updated September 15, 2000 at 04:00 AM EDT

Dark Days, Marc Singer’s documentary about homeless people living in an abandoned Amtrak tunnel beneath Manhattan’s Penn Station, won several awards at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and it has opened to near-unanimous critical acclaim. I hope, therefore, that I won’t offend the gods of sensitivity if I say that the movie, as heroic as it may have been to produce, is more noteworthy for its intentions than its execution. Singer, an Englishman in his mid-20s, spent two years hauling his cameras down into the tunnels, using his destitute subjects as crew members. The dead-zone squalor of the setting — a garbagy claustrophobic dungeon, photographed in dingy black and white — is a shock to behold, and so is the way that the broken-down squatters, some of them crackheads, have set up house, complete with walls, knickknacks, and appliances.

As they begin to tell stories of their lives, however, the movie grows glum and repetitive. Singer isn’t a penetrating interviewer. He’s content to focus on faces, on rambling anecdotes that reveal very little, and so Dark Days ends up soft-pedaling the degradation of how and why the people we see fell to where they are. The film’s appeal lies in presenting the homeless as saddened lumpen victims who do, in fact, have ”homes.” To come away from Dark Days believing in the comfort of that vision, however, requires equal parts sympathy and fantasy. C+