Can a movie still be labeled a disappointment if you went in expecting to be disappointed? With a title as generic as “The Darkness” it’s hard not to adjust your expectations accordingly. You can’t get too excited about a movie if its title reads like it should be preceded by the phrase ‘Shurfine presents’ on the one sheet. But, to its credit, there is no false advertising with “The Darkness.” The film really is as bland and unmemorable as its title implies. Almost as if the film set out to be as disappointing as possible. If that’s the case, I guess you could say that “The Darkness” is kind of a success.
Strangely, as leaden as “The Darkness” turns out to be, the film’s opening is shot in the same lyrical yet discursive style of last year’s polarizing “It Follows.” A sense of ever-mounting dread is hinted at through fairly innocuous scenes Kevin Bacon and Radha Mitchell trading banter with Matt Walsh and Jennifer Morrison at some creepy, undisclosed location at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Shot mostly in off-center longshots, the sequence is off-putting. Nothing is quite right about what’s happening. Everything seems forced and unnatural. But whatever good will that’s built up by this opening disappears the moment Mitchell and Bacon’s autistic son (David Mazouz, young Bruce Wayne on “Gotham”) stumbles into a cave and wanders off with five stones all appearing to be a part of some kind of a Native American ritual.
“The Darkness” morphs into something that feels like somebody awkwardly forced five Lifetime movie plotlines into a direct-to-Netflix “Poltergeist” sequel.
Once it’s settled into its suburban setting and far away from the Grand Canyon, “The Darkness” is less a horror film and more a domestic potboiler. The poltergeists that inhabit the stones Mazouz tucked into his backpack aren’t the haunting kind. They’re bad influences. Instead of rattling chains or causing people to think their faces are peeling off, the poltergeists in “The Darkness” encourage Bacon to carry on an affair, Mitchell to drink heavily, and their daughter (Lucy Fry) to suddenly develop bulimia. All of this is a diversionary tactic, because the poltergeists want to kidnap Mazouz.
I don’t know.
Why would these poltergeists want children and what are they doing with them once they’re spirited away to the netherworld? Do they just lock them in a room and force them to make dreamcatchers for all eternity? Is it just a cover so they can watch “Frozen” over and over again without being judged by visiting poltergeists? Whatever the case may be, “The Darkness” stinks.
Although resembling the kind of indifferently directed product that would come from competent but boring hacks-for-hire like Scott Stewart and Jonathan Liebesman, “The Darkness” was, helmed by Greg McLean the same director who gave us the intense thriller “Wolf Creek.” Forgetting everything he learned about building suspense on his freshman effort, McLean’s idea of ramping up the scares in “The Darkness” is to cut to a mysteriously running faucet every so often. Did Mauzoz do it? Or was it a ghooooost! Moo-hoo-ha-ha! McLean does avoid jump scares, but isn’t above telegraphing scares or pulling those frustrating, “It was all a dream” moments that pop-up in horror films all too frequently.
“The Darkness” carries a grating moralist subtext. Was it intended to be a sort of stealth Christian scare film. Especially when Bacon and Mitchell inexplicably complain about the lack of Gideon bibles in hotel rooms during these troubled times.
Boring, unmemorable and filled with laughable junk science (If you’re a parent of an autistic child, “The Darkness” wants you to know that your son or daughter is more susceptible to ‘frightenings’ from every kind of ghost, spook or Haunting Harry), “The Darkness’s” soul purpose appears to be something to fall asleep to during an international flight.
Mike Sullivan is a movie reviewer for Weekender. Movie reviews appear weekly in Weekender.
Starring: Kevin Bacon, Radha Mitchell, Lucy Fry, David Mazouz
Director: Greg McLean
Weekender Rating: WV
Length: 100 minutes