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There’s something about a haunted house that has become more than cliché. It is practically a genre all its own and source for dozens of films over decades that have helped to define modern horror itself. From The Amityville Horror to Poltergeist to many others, the possessed home has no lack of titles and now comes the latest, Darkness Rising, a tepid contribution to the mix that revels in its excess and commitment to upholding every possible trope in the book.
On the eve of an abandoned home’s demolition, three young adults, troubled Madison (Tara Holt), her therapist boyfriend Jake (Bryce Johnson) and cousin Izzy (Katrina Law) decide to spend the night inside. The kicker is that the house is the setting for a brutal murder, that of Madison’s little sister by her own mother some twenty-five years earlier. Trying to get closure to it all, Madison hopes that poking around and exploring the place will settle some questions, most especially the visions of five slash marks that have haunted her for decades. Inside though, there are no answers, only nightmares.
Directed by Austin Reading, Darkness Rising doesn’t waste time in setting up the story, starting right away with the trio entering the house and thumbing through the remnants while spooky sounds and jump scare imagery get plenty of screentime. And that’s the general approach to the entire film, one that is less about taking risks than clinging to all the standards that have come before. We never get to know who these people are, with Madison’s decidedly terrifying past nothing more than a catalyst to generate one soggy trope after another.
That said, the house is creepy and Reading at least knows how to build some suspense, even if the characters make some truly bad decisions, one after another. Holt, Johnson, and Law are mostly convincing and the script has some sharp moments but Reading succeeds more in establishing the presence of the house even if none of it is new. If one is going to cling to the archetypes, at least Reading does so with some verve.
Much more a psychological thriller than a straight up horror, Darkness Rising might be searching for a larger message, and opportunities exist but it is more interested in propping up old haunts with familiar visuals than exploring potential. Fans will eat up the look and its dedication to the classics and while it makes no sense, there is at least a cool bookend cameo from Ted Raimi.
Movie description: Darkness Rising is a 2017 thriller about a woman and her friends who break into her abandoned childhood home, where her mother went mad and nearly murdered as a child.
Director(s): Austin Reading
Actor(s): Tara Holt, Christian Ganiere, Bryce Johnson