Film Review: ‘The Darkness’

'The Darkness' Review

A family beset by autism, bulimia, alcoholism and extramarital canoodling squares off against the world-ending prophecies of Anasazi canyon-dwellers in “The Darkness,” a kitchen-sink horror movie so over-the-top that even the actual kitchen faucet runs mysteriously. At some point in the production process, co-writer/director Greg McLean must have believed he was making John Cassavetes’ “Poltergeist,” but this odd fusion of psychodrama and supernatural hokum gets away from him. Though better cast and considerably more ambitious than a typical PG-13 frightfest, “The Darkness” succumbs to the bloodless shocks and assaultive sound effects that plague its generic peers. The film may siphon a few million indiscriminate dollars on opening weekend, but will recede into the shadows quickly thereafter.

Literally and metaphorically, “The Darkness” is half a world away from the barebones ferocity of “Wolf Creek,” McLean’s debut feature from a decade ago, a tense and grisly thriller set in the Australian Outback. Though he opens in the similarly barren, sun-baked terrain of the Grand Canyon, most of the action takes place in suburban Los Angeles, where a family is tormented from within and without. In a scenario as corny as watching the Brady Bunch in Hawaii, the Taylor family comes back from vacation with a cursed souvenir one of the kids found in a cave, only here it’s a collection of magic rocks instead of a tiki necklace.

When strange occurrences start happening around the house, Peter (Kevin Bacon) and Bronny (Radha Mitchell) attribute most of the problems to their autistic son Mikey (David Mazouz), whose development has always presented its share of challenges. They learn to take Mikey’s new imaginary friend in stride and have rationalizations at the ready for the soot-stained handprints and terrible smells, and the neighbor dog that won’t stop barking. Between Peter’s wandering eye, Bronny’s drinking problem and a teenage daughter (Lucy Fry) with an eating disorder, the Taylors have enough problems without centuries-old spirit demons skittering behind the walls.

Right around the time Mikey lights a section of his bedroom wall on fire, Peter and Bronny finally acknowledge a supernatural presence, but their efforts to fight it are undermined by marital discord. “The Darkness” isn’t the first horror film to exploit the vulnerabilities within a family — Martin Scorsese’s remake of “Cape Fear,” for example, made that one crucial change to the original — but it adds a layer of intrigue beyond the things that go bump in the night. Bacon and Mitchell have more to do than react to greenscreens, and their performances suggest a difficult history beyond the page.

The trouble with “The Darkness” is that McLean keeps piling it on, both on the domestic and paranormal front. An entire subplot is devoted to Peter’s lascivious boss (Peter Reiser) hiring a young college grad just to tempt him. His daughter’s bulimia is a crisis that comes and goes like Sunday dinner. Worst of all, McLean turns Mikey’s autism into an alien quality, as if he’s closer in spirit to the shadow beasts haunting his family than a member of the human race. He isn’t the usual creepy kid; his “otherness” is connected to ugly stereotypes of spectrum disorder.

The see-what-sticks quality of the melodrama applies doubly to the mythology, which teems over with so much nonsense that it takes an Internet video on Anasazi lore, multiple browser searches and a pair of ghostbusters to explain it all. There are portents of extinct societies, a special rock configuration, spirit animals and a portal to another world. Mikey’s imaginary friend even requests a pair of helium balloons from the grocery store, as prophecy apparently dictates. It’s all outrageously silly, hammered home by the ear-blasting shrieks and stingers on the soundtrack. “The Darkness” may fail, but to McLean’s credit, it’s not for lack of trying.

Film Review: 'The Darkness'

Reviewed at Regal City North 14, Chicago, May 13, 2016. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 93 MIN.  

Production

(U.S.) A High Top Releasing, BH Tilt presentation of a Blumhouse/Emu Creek Pictures production. Produced by Jason Blum, Bianca Martino, Matt Kaplan. Executive producers, Greg McLean, Couper Samuelson, Jeanette Volturno-Brill. Co-producer, Phillip Dawe.

Crew

Directed by Greg McLean. Screenplay, Shayne Armstrong, S.P. Krause, McLean. Camera (color), Toby Oliver; editor, Sean Lahiff, Tim Alverson; music, Johnny Klimek; production designer, Melanie Paizis-Jones; art director, Hunter Brown; set decorator, Karuna Karmarker; costume designer, Nicola Dunn; sound, Pawel Wdowczak; re-recording mixers, Pete Smith, Jamie Hardt; visual effects supervisor, Marty Pepper; paranormal consultant, Michael J. Kouri; stunt coordinator, Nash Edgerton; assistant director, Gerard DiNardi; casting, Terri Taylor.

With

Kevin Bacon, Radha Mitchell, Lucy Fry, David Mazouz, Ming-Na Wen, Paul Reiser.

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  1. Christopher Lindsey says:

    Really thought this movie SUCK( and that’s being nice)!!! Real example of money gone to waist. There was nothing nice about this film except the hot grad. The shadow moving across the screen, the kids talking to no one, things happening that never gets explained,for example the boy killing the cat, what happened that actually pit grandma in the hospital? What did she see and what was the result? For it to be the year 2016, the film production team did a great job at creating a film that doesn’t even measure up to an inch. The darkness never got dark let a known to carry a proper shadow if you get my drift. The writer or writers who wrote this film need to study more on the supernatural and take a lesson on what exactly horror is. This should be rated P.A.U Poor & Unexcused. Please fill free to notify me for any more information on why this movie shouldn’t have gotten the 5% snow that rotten tomatoes gave it, actually think they were being too nice

  2. Katherine Neville says:

    Paul Reiser, not Peter…

  3. B Reno says:

    Assuming you meant “The Fury”??? Poltergeist???

  4. elmos says:

    John Cassavetes isn’t anywhere near neither of all the Poltergeist movies. I think you meant Tobe Hooper

  5. macd says:

    I’m surprised no one has commented that “The Darkness” reunites Kevin Bacon and Paul Reiser for the first time since “Diner” so promisingly launched their careers in 1982. I hope they were well-paid for appearing in this dreck, but since it’s one of those “micro-budgeted” horrors, I doubt that they were. Sad.

  6. Jim Jeffer says:

    I’m surprised anyone “LOVED” this movie. It was boring and not the least bit scary. I can’t remember ever seeing a horror movie where no one is killed (except for the dog by animal control). I wouldn’t watch it again even if it was on cable and nothing else was on. The scariest thing about this movie is that it made it to the big screen and that I wasted time and money seeing it

  7. Renegirl says:

    Wow….really? I LOVED this movie! Though I will agree that Stephanie’s bulimia went rather quickly. But, I guess if demons are trying to destroy your family eating(or not) is the last thing on your mind.

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