Ghosts are scary and stuff in “Out of the Dark,” a horror opus just as generic and forgettable as its title. This Colombia-shot supernatural suspenser with American/British leads and a mostly Spanish creative team offers professional polish but no interesting ideas or atmospherics, feeling like a rote echo of numerous already overmilked genre conventions from the get-go. Already released on VOD last month, with a U.S. theatrical launch Feb. 27 on 10 screens around the country, the pic should do its job as a routinely passable time-killer in various formats and various territories. But there’s nothing here that will spark above-average returns, let alone even a direct-to-vid sequel.
After the usual prologue establishing that bad things happen to people who live in the story’s particular setting, we meet the Harrimans as they arrive from London. Sarah (Julia Stiles) is assuming a job as general manager of the Bogota factory owned by her father, Jordan (Stephen Rea). Her husband, Paul (Scott Speedman), will continue his work as a children’s book illustrator, and they’ll both carry on parenting their approximately 6-year-old only child, Hannah (Pixie Davies).
Their daughter becomes a source of concern when Mom and Dad go out for an evening. While housekeeper/nanny Catalina (Vanessa Tamayo) is distracted by strange noises, Hannah somehow gets stuck in a dumbwaiter shaft, where she’s terrorized by the child-sized, blindfolded spirits we’ve already seen lurking about. Once found, she grows mysteriously ill, then is dragged off into the surrounding jungle by the same specters. While at first the house’s poltergeist-like disturbances seem connected to a 500-year-old legend of Spanish Conquistadores’ cruelty, the frantic parents eventually uncover a much more recent guilty secret connected to Jordan’s lengthy oversight of the factory.
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Production materials indicate the participants’ pride in making a movie that combines scary-movie elements with social issues. But this last aspect (involving the environmental/worker-health responsibilities of industry) feels so crudely tacked-on — especially via a syrupy closing-credits sequence — that it only underlines the secondhand quality of the horror elements. Creepy now-you-see-them-now-you-don’t phantom kids, sudden noises, windows bursting open, thunderstorms, escalating parental panic, et al., arrive on cue, as if checked off a list of horror tropes (particularly as derived from recent Spanish genre cinema).
There’s nothing terribly wrong with “Out of the Dark,” beyond a general lack of originality that grows more obvious as the screenplay’s pedestrian mystery is unraveled. First-time feature helmer Lluis Quilez, who’s made several well-received narrative shorts, pulls pro design contributions into a handsome enough package that makes decent use of locations. The lead actors are solid as usual, but you can feel them all knocking their heads against the low ceiling of material that’s afraid to take any risks — playing it so safe that the film ends up lacking anything in the way of real personality, scares or plot surprises.