While on a family camping trip in the Grand Canyon, young autistic boy Mikey finds five mystical stones buried underground and brings them home. However, the stones are tied to malicious ancient demons who start plaguing the family with strange supernatural occurrences, which threaten to rip them apart.
The Darkness, which was directed by Greg McLean (Wolf Creek, Rogue), starts out promising enough as it opens in a beautiful desert location in the Grand Canyon. I love the choice of having a cold open with just a title card appearing nine minutes into the film as the family is driving home, indicating that they are taking “the darkness” with them. The mythology of the picture is also very interesting. I like when these supernatural films branch out beyond the typical haunted house or ghost plot lines, and delve into other cultures and their mythologies, like 2012’s The Possession did with the dybbuk box. In The Darkness, though, the actions of the Anasazi demons seem to be more of a catalyst for helping the family deal with their real issues.
Aside from the challenges of raising a child with autism, each member of the family has their own personal problems. Peter, played by Kevin Bacon, once had an affair, and seems to be tempted again when a pretty new graduate is hired at his firm. His wife Bronny (Radha Mitchell) is still suspicious of him and is also a recovering alcoholic. Teenager Stephanie (Lucy Fry) suffers from bulimia. They are not the same happy family we saw enjoying their vacation at the beginning of the movie. Putting Bacon and Mitchell together was a wonderful choice in casting because they both always deliver. David Mazouz as Mikey is also a promising talent, and Fry perfectly fits the role of a confused and troubled teen.
Unfortunately, in spite of a great cast, the movie just feels very rushed. The editing jumps too quickly from one scene to the next to the point where there is barely any tension. There are also too many instances of certain plot lines being introduced and then never having any payoff or explanation. The quick scene with Mikey and Bronny’s mother could have had so much more impact, but is quickly forgotten, and we don’t even get to see the most shocking part of that scene. The same is true for Stephanie’s bulimia. There is clearly a very deep-seated issue going on there with the way she hides her illness by throwing up in Tupperware containers and putting them under her bed. This is when Bronny sends Mikey to her mother so that they focus more on Stephanie; however, Stephanie’s problem is never mentioned again, and she’s not even in the movie for the next several scenes.
The Darkness relies too much on genre tropes, and feels like something you’ve already seen several times over. The opening, again, is very good, and there are a few other great sequences and jump scares here and there. The bit with the snake is completely unexpected, as is the great scene when Stephanie is attacked in her room. Other sequences are not so exciting or original–strange noises, faucets turning on, doors opening and closing by themselves–until you get to the CGI-laden conclusion, which is just boring. There is even a big scene with the requisite spiritual healer that tries to cleanse the house. Based on the mythology that is set up with the rocks. I expected the conclusion to occur in a completely different way, rather than the somewhat hokey fashion that it does.
I’m actually glad that I got to see The Darkness for the first time on Blu-Ray. Watching the deleted scenes and the alternate ending (the only special features present) really hints at how much more cohesive and compelling the film could have been. The alternate ending is definitely more of a downer than the happy ending in the final version, but I would have preferred it so much more. The deleted scenes show how one series of events in the middle of the film was terribly chopped up and rearranged. Letting it play out as it was originally written seems like it would have made more sense and added another layer of fear to the story, rather than just pilfering from it for more useless jump scares. It seems like McLean had a good film in there somewhere but it appears that the studio requested multiple changes that threw things off a great deal. I would be interested to see a director’s cut of this flick.
Ultimately, The Darkness has a great central theme, but doesn’t allow itself to follow through with it to its full potential. There’s too much going on, and the story fails to focus on those elements which are really important to the growth and development of the characters.
The Darkness is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.
WICKED RATING: 5/10
Director: Greg McLean
Writer(s): Shayne Armstrong, Shane Krause, Greg McLean
Stars: Kevin Bacon, Radha Mitchell, Lucy Fry, David Mazouz
Studio/ Production Co: Blumhouse Productions, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Release date: September 6, 2016 (DVD and Blu-Ray)
Length: 93 minutes
Sub-genre: Supernatural Thriller