THE DARKNESS (2016)
Starring Kevin Bacon, Radha Mitchell, David Mazouz, Lucy Fry, Matt Walsh, Jennifer Morrison, Parker Mack, Paul Reiser, Ming-Na Wen, Trian Long-Smith, Tara Lynne Barr, Krista Marie Yu, Chris Darga, Judith McConnell, Ilza Rosario, Alma Martinez and Katie Ward.
Screenplay by Greg Mclean.
Directed by Greg Mclean.
Distributed by Blumhouse Pictures. 92 minutes. Rated PG-13.
In this post-Paranormal Activities world, ghost (and demon) stories seem to have gotten stuck in a bit of a formula. Suburban family suddenly start noticing weird bumps in the night. As each night passes, the disturbances escalate steadily, building to a crescendo in which the family is running around, dodging spiritual attacks and fighting for their lives.
And they never, ever move out of the house until it is way too late.
The Darkness adds in a little Native-American spirit mumbo-jumbo, but otherwise it is pretty much more of the same.
Honestly, the earliest scenes in the film – in which Kevin Bacon and his family are camping in a gorgeous mountain canyon and his autistic son gets lost in a mysterious old cave – promise a very different movie than the one that plays out. Perhaps, it seems, it may have been a better film, or at the very least a more distinctive film. The early scene where the boy falls through a fragile rock face and ends up lost in a darkened cavern in the middle of nowhere with no way to contact his family – honestly that is the most blatantly terrifying thing which happens here.
Eventually he makes it out (disappointingly, the film doesn’t really show how he found his way back to the campground, he just eventually shows back up), with a stash of evil stones that are part of an old Indian shrine.
Then the family goes home. They suddenly start noticing weird bumps in the night. As each night passes, the disturbances escalate steadily, building to a crescendo in which the family is running around, dodging spiritual attacks and fighting for their lives.
So, The Darkness is not necessarily the most original film out there. Which does not mean, by the way, that it is not a good film. Even if much of the plotline is familiar, strong acting and some decent special effects make the movie a very effective little thriller.
Bacon and Mitchell play a long-married couple, the Taylors, who are vaguely estranged (apparently he had an affair some time back and though they stayed together the betrayal still stings) and use their camping trip as a way of healing the family. Their gorgeous teen daughter (Lucy Fry) and severely autistic son (David Mazouz) seem rather bored by the thing, though the mountain campground they chose is truly stunning.
What they do not know is that it is also the home of the native American Anasazi tribe – a smart, progressive tribe who built an underground city, but eventually disappeared due to the torture of evil spirits. However, apparently the tribe was able to trap these beings in five rocks – the very rocks that the Taylor son eventually stumbles across. By removing them from the tavern, he releases the demons to haunt his suburban Los Angeles home.
This is where The Darkness gets a bit familiar. Lots of typical haunting scenes – handprints showing up on bedspreads, weird and threatening symbols painted on the walls, strange shadowy figures lurking in the background. And did I mention that they don’t even consider the idea of leaving the house until they have been tormented for weeks?
Eventually they get some surprisingly good advice from dad’s sleazy boss, who is played by Paul Reiser, making this apparently the first time Reiser and Bacon have worked together since their breakout roles in the brilliant 1982 comedy/drama Diner. Through his wife, they are hooked up with a spiritual healer who tries desperately to clean the evil spirits from the house.
Are they successful? It seems even the filmmakers seemed to think it was a coin toss. The filmmakers did not even seem to have a clear idea of their story. The Blu-ray release includes an alternate ending which is much darker than the one which played in theaters, and honestly works a little bit better than the one they ended up going with. (At least it does not feel so much like it was decided by a focus group….) The alternate ending doesn’t exactly work either, but it is greatly preferable to the unneeded and anti-climactic happily-ever-after tag scene at the end of the theatrical cut.
However, even if it is somewhat boilerplate, there were some good scares mixed in The Darkness. It’s not the greatest haunting story you’ll find, but it could be a lot worse, too.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2016 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: September 6, 2016.