Horror movies are often (unfairly) criticised for lacking in plot. Not so with The Darkness, the latest paranormal-themed spooker currently haunting multiplexes, which has about ten different stories stuffed into 90 minutes of confused, and utterly un-scary, tediousness.
Erstwhile heartthrob Kevin Bacon follows in Ethan Hawke’s bespectacled, cardigan-ed footsteps as Peter, a sort-of jerky family-man struggling with an alcoholic wife, bulimic teenage daughter, autistic son and a boss who refers to him as “baby”. Oh, and he had an affair a certain amount of time ago, too. This will all be important later (it won’t).
We meet Peter and his Jerry Springer-worthy family on a trip to the Grand Canyon, where troubled Mikey (an ode to Danny Trejo in Rob Zombie’s Halloween perhaps? One wishes the filmmakers were capable of such creativity) stumbles upon an ancient temple of sorts, where some remarkably well-preserved runes are scattered.
Upon returning home to their gleaming, perfectly-white McMansion, wife Bronny starts to notice something is up with her son who’s acting, by his own sister’s admission, even creepier than usual. The house is acting up, too, Taps run endlessly, doors open by themselves, and Mikey is transfixed by his new friend Jenny, who lives in the wall.
If you can’t see where all this is going, then perhaps The Darkness is for you. For everybody else on the planet, this film is yet another pointless, derivative, and totally uninspired trudge towards the inevitable. There’s nothing in here that we haven’t seen before, done better, and with considerably more wit and panache.
It’s a bit Poltergeist-lite, naturally – though, really, what isn’t these days? – but The Darkness is even less of a pretender to the throne of that great kids’ horror classic, than some of its predecessors, because nothing all that spooky actually happens. We never see ‘Jenny’, for example, and even the jump scares are light.
In fact, the most effective sequence of the entire movie, which sees daughter Stephanie choked by little more than black hand-prints, is in the trailer. Elsewhere it’s cliché after cliché, trotted out mechanically and with little enthusiasm, from mysteriously barking dogs to creaking foot-steps in the attic and a cawing crow on the windshield.
A honking, overbearing score does nothing to heighten the tension while the camerawork is unnecessarily jittery – particularly given the flick is (mercifully) not presented as found footage. The performances are beyond melodramatic, everybody screeching at the top of their lungs and nobody behaving like a normal human being.
Gotham‘s David Mazouz struggles to portray Mikey eloquently, though he isn’t helped by a clunky, exposition-laden script that, rather obnoxiously, feels the need to tell us out straight that he is autistic. Later, it’s also heavily implied there may be a link between autism and demonic possession, which doesn’t sit well given the soap opera tone.
The thing is loaded with product placement, too, from Bud Light to Fruity Pebbles and, of course, iPhones. However, the most obnoxious instance comes with the insertion of a YouTube video, played three times in its entirety over the course of the movie, which isn’t necessary in the first place but certainly could’ve made its mark after one appearance.
The Darkness is a particularly strange beast coming from director Greg Mc Lean, who was responsible for the overrated Aussie torture porn flick Wolf Creek, along with its hilariously misjudged sequel. Here, Mc Lean, who also takes a writing credit (the screenplay is somehow credited to three people), really struggles to play to a PG-13 crowd.
A dog attack results in the teeniest, tiniest bite, while not a drop of blood shows up until well into the third act and the body count is pathetically, laughably low. Even when the demons do show themselves, it seems as though we’ve wandered onto the set of a low-budget Slipknot video, rather than a Blumhouse-backed, major horror movie.
And, considering its running time is pretty standard, The Darkness is quite bizarrely paced. The final act feels incredibly rushed, while there are long stretches with nothing much happening. The many competing plot strands struggle to come together cohesively and the ending is an unearned, unsatisfying cop-out.
Once people start doing incantations in Spanish and waving feathers around, it’s likely most of the audience will already have checked out and started seeing this for what it is: money-grabbing hokum. There aren’t even any real stakes, and it’s all terribly silly – like an episode of Rifftrax waiting to happen, except that would be entertaining.
Perhaps the one thing we can take from this snooze-fest is that Blumhouse don’t always get it right. They may have given us game-changers such as The Gift and The Lords Of Salem but they’ve also shoved The Visit, Dark Skies, and now this boring, forgettable rubbish down our collective throats.
If you’re wondering what’s lurking in The Darkness, it isn’t much of anything at all.
WICKED RATING: (2 / 10)
Director(s): Greg Mc Lean
Writer(s): Shayne Armstrong, Shane Strause, Greg Mc Lean
Stars: Kevin Bacon, Radha Mitchell, Lucy Fry, David Mazouz
Studio/ Production Co: Blumhouse
Release: May 13th, 2016
Length: 92 mins.