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The modern horror movie is becoming a hopelessly stale collection of imitations, lacking any innovation or creativity, simply changing the catalyst for how the plot revolves. All start with small scares and work their way up to the final confrontation, just in a different setting. Director Greg McLean‘s The Darkness is not just another straight off the assembly line horror movie, it’s like an off-brand knock-off in cardboard box sold by a guy on a street corner. This is one the worst movies of the year.
It starts near the Grand Canyon where Peter and Bronny Taylor (Kevin Bacon and Radha Mitchell), along with their two children Stephanie (Lucy Fry), a bulimic teenager and Michael (David Mazouz), a younger, high-functioning autistic, are camping with some friends. Micheal, who needs mostly constant supervision, gets left alone for a moment and falls into a hidden pit where he discovers five carved Native American Anasazi stones arranged in a half-circle upon a rock pedestal. He returns to the family and they head home, not knowing that he’s stashed the relics in his backpack and keeps them in his room.
Almost right away, things get creepy, with funny smells and bumps in the night. Water faucets turn on suddenly. Hand prints appear on walls. It slowly escalates as Michael makes a new ‘invisible’ friend and not long after sets his room on fire. Bronny is a little more open-minded to the weirdness and wonders if the house isn’t possessed by something nefariously spiritual. Of course Peter’s not so quick to think the same, mostly because he’s tied up at work and contemplating an affair with a young, very attractive assistant (Trian Long Smith), something he’s done with someone else earlier. Things progress as expected and the spirits grow more and more visible and aggressive while the family grows further and further apart.
While the use of an autistic child as a conduit for the demon’s arrival edges close to offensive, the film itself has much bigger problems. For one, how about using Native American beliefs as source for scares, even bringing in an older Native American and her granddaughter (as interpreter) to explain the power of the dark forces closing in on the white family? What year is this? I won’t claim to know anything about Native American beliefs but at one point, the grandmother uses copper dowsing rods to hunt down the spirits. I don’t know why that bothered me, but it did. What’s really surprising though is how tepid and generic it all is, with some truly astonishingly bad storytelling. So bad in fact, that it feels broken, as if this was one more in a long list of movies hacked apart by a studio looking merely to exploit a trend. It seems impossible to believe that a filmmaker of any substance would release a work cut like this. For example, the movie starts with two couples camping near the Grand Canyon. The others are positioned like they are very close friends and have done this sort of thing for years. But after the first five minutes, once the introduction is complete, they literally are never seen or heard from again. In that short time, the other family’s teenage son, makes a point to give Michael his watch, something he says Michael has been looking at all day. But that’s it. The watch is not part of anything and is never mentioned again. It feels like an entire subplot was totally excised from the film. Also, Stephanie is bulimic. But why? There is nothing generated from this fact other than a few bits of confrontation. And this is just an example of many oddities. Worse, while Peter struggles with his one infidelity, he’s actually a good father, and so when a choice arrives, he attempts to offer himself as a mea culpa but it feels terribly false. And not to give too much away, but the prophecy told to us by the grandmother warned it would be the end of the world. What really transpires is well, not.
But the real issue is the script, which, not unsurprisingly, is said to be based on real events, which is a common trope now in horror movies, but so laughably unbelievable, it’s almost insulting. If any of the paranormal events of this movie were actually true, it would categorically change the world as we know it, the same way as if aliens were to land in New York and say hi. But be that as it may, the dialog and delivery are so banal, so rote, I have to wonder if this was really meant to be a horror film. That’s not even mentioning Bacon and Mitchell, who have no business being in this movie, or at least the one released, further suggesting this was supposed to be something different.
To be clear, The Darkness is not what it advertises. It has not one scary moment in it and any that are meant to be are so contrived it’s like watching a jack-in-the-box where the handle is broken. Not even bad it’s kind of fun, this is just bad. Move on.
Director: Greg McLean (as Greg Mclean)
Writers: Shayne Armstrong, Shane Krause
Stars: Kevin Bacon, Radha Mitchell, David Mazouz, Lucy Fry