A suburban family brings home more than they bargained for, in the newest scare-shriek “The Darkness”. After the Taylor family returns home from vacation at the Grand Canyon, they unknowingly bring home a supernatural force that preys off their own fears and vulnerabilities, threatening to destroy them from within, while consuming their lives with terrifying consequences. What starts as strange behavior from the son, Michael (David Mozouz), as well as mysterious black handprints around the house, quickly escalates into full-bodied apparations that makes their home a house of horrors. The film also stars an A-list cast of Kevin Bacon, Radha Mitchell, Lucy Fry, Matt Walsh and Jennifer Morrison. Directed by “Wolf Creek” director, Greg McLean and written by McLean, Shayne Armstrong and S.P. Krause, the film was produced by horror kingpin Jason Blum, Bianca Martino and Matt Kaplan. “The Darkness” is rated PG-13 for disturbing violence, some light sensuality and minor adult language.
Perhaps the biggest challenge that a horror movie faces in 2016 is to avoid the easy temptation of cliche jump scares instead of impressing the audience with atmospheric terror. Sadly, Greg McLean has fallen victim of the same repeated muck that directors less talented than him feel excited with. I didn’t have much faith for this film going into it, but I figured McLean could possibly be enough reason to think that “The Darkness” could go a lot further than its minimal expectations. Couple this with a complimentary cast of big-screen personalities, and you could have a surprise. Unfortunately, Greg presents us with his first real stinker of his reputable career. “The Darkness” slugs its way through 87 minutes of the bare minimum of PG-13 horror, complete with no gore or no legitimate scares to make this anything other than forgettable ten minutes after you leave the theater. The ending left me surprised, considering how much it takes from other better horror films, and doesn’t add even the slightest bit of bang for your buck. Instead, McLean’s unimpressive script and shady direction leaves this mess a film that came out four months too late, where the rest of the laughably bad horror films belong.
First of all is the style choices that McLean decided on for the movie. After sending chills down the spines of audiences in 2005’s “Wolf Creek”, Greg showcased a fine skill for relating the terror of being lost out in the middle of nowhere, with a knife-wielding antagonist who hunted his prey, as well as the audience. “The Darkness” doesn’t attempt any of these feats, instead presenting the most beautiful of shots within the opening five minutes of the movie. We do get some impressive landscapes of the Grand Canyon, but they certainly don’t last long. Animals like snakes and wolves are CGI, and cheap ones at that. This computer generated touch is spread even thinner when you see the greenscreen backgrounds of the driving scenes, and just how off-putting they are. Now, I know that most movies use greenscreen backgrounds for their driving scenes, but what makes this one different is just how differently the light on the skin of our characters mixes with the sun that is supposedly shining through their windows. The inside of the car is dark, as the outside shows nothing but radiating sun.
This isn’t the only laughably bad creative touch however, as the movie on more than one occasion shows off choppy editing work that really cuts into the creative advancement. Scenes either end too early, or cut out after a long period of actor silence. The latter is clearly from the end of a dialogue scene, and the editors just didn’t make a crisp enough transition into the next scene. This made the very mood of the movie impossible to ever immerse myself in.
On that subject, the film’s shrieks and scares offer nothing to reward any audiences who can predict these jump scares from a mile away. It amazes me that movies can still follow the same tedious formula for generating these jump scares, and people will still yell in terror. Quite often in this movie, as well others for the genre, you will take a scene that gets noticeably quiet out of nowhere, and an experienced viewer of this can time exactly where the scare will happen. This movie is nothing different, as the film blasts ear-shattering audio into the auditorium on scenes where it completely doesn’t make sense. Scenes like a boy standing still when he comes into focus, as well as a handprint appearing on the wall have the same audio firepower as a truck blasting through a nitro-glycerine factory. It’s a cliche that I would love to see wiped away.
As for the non-horror material, the film has some good ideas but never anything past an initial introduction to make it go further. I loved the idea of this little boy having autism, and that trait being used as an easier method to how the monsters invade his psyche. That alone should’ve been all the movie needed to induce terror. “Pet Cemetary” used our own children against us, and despite the good foreground idea, this film doesn’t do anything to make our worst nightmares come true. Instead, we get handprints and strange happenings around the house. For demons who we are told like to rip a family apart, they sure do have time to play these cute games around the house. Nothing feels life-threatening, and that is the biggest creative gap that I had to suspend in order to keep my viewing smooth till the end. Unfortunately, those last twenty minutes are even worse than I could’ve ever imagined. I’m not sure if the writers of this movie knew that they were beat-for-beat ripping off “Insidious”, but it is like watching a SyFy channel knock-off. If you can ignore this fact, you are treated to the easiest monster fight that I have ever seen. Considering this is the only time in the movie where you see the monsters at all, I can only assume that the production of this movie only had enough to rent out the costumes for one day of shooting. Once you figure out the direction that the ending is headed, you will scratch your head as to wonder why this movie was ever over ten minutes long. The film just kind of ends without anything to make us feel like the investment in money or time was worth it….IT WASN’T.
As for the performances, the film doesn’t really give anything that makes this a fun watch. Kevin Bacon is largely missing for a majority of the first act of the movie, and his character is very unlikeable, especially when his son’s autistic condition is blamed for things around the house that clearly no child (especially with autism) could ever accomplish. Radha Mitchell is the best performance of the movie, but her character becomes a weak one when we really need that brave mother the most. It feels like her and Bacon switch creative places midway through the film, as the second half of the movie leaves her univolved. Jennifer Morrison and Matt Walsh are only in the movie for one scene. End of story. “Gotham’s” own David Mazouz gives a pretty solid performance as this autistic little boy. Nothing feels insulting about his performance, and I would certainly like to see more from this boy wonder moving forward. Then I get to the really bad of this movie; Lucy Fry. Let me just say that I enjoyed Fry in Hulu’s “11-22-63”, so I know that she has some legit acting chops. But her delivery for horror had me pissing off the audience members all around me, as I couldn’t help but laugh loudly at her overbearing teenage attitudes getting the best of her every scene. Her character is so flat, that you could easily just cast the part under “Bitchy teenager” without a name or background. The film starts to experiment with some ideas for her midway through, but these come out of nowhere too late, and are left in the dust far too early.
“The Darkness” is best kept away from the creative light of any big release studio. It’s a ghost of a much better genre movie, and never justifies its ideas or existence. This title would’ve been more insightful as a documentary for the long-forgotten rock band of the same name. Truly terrible.