The Darkness (2016)
★ / ★★★★
“The Darkness” is an excellent example of a horror-drama gone terribly wrong. Thirty minutes into it, one is likely to experience a sick, sinking feeling that the deadly dull material isn’t going to get any better due to a screenplay so anemic in creativity, tension, and intrigue, it seemed as if the writers—Shayne Armstrong, Shane Krause, and Greg McLean—penned the material when half-asleep.
There is no inspiration to be had here. Instead, it offers old, rickety clichés—reshuffled, regurgitated, and reduced even further to their most basic, most frustrating building blocks. Halfway through, I wanted to shove the writers into a dark room, lock the door, and force them to watch great horror movies so that the next time they write a screenplay, it would not end up like this egregious vomit bag.
It is a shame because the first scene shows some promise. A family goes camping at the Grand Canyon and the children go exploring on their own. The youngest, Michael (David Mazouz), who has autism, stumbles upon a hidden cavern with curious rocks at the center space. Entertained by them, he decides to take these home, unaware that the artifacts, when taken from where the extinct Anasazi people had placed them exactly, would release demonic spirits that they imprisoned. Strange occurrences begin to unfold in the house. It works because the opening scene is mostly silent. It is about movement, exploration, how the camera follows a character from one beautiful place to a curious place.
Kevin Bacon and Radha Mitchell play the parents and it is clear that they are cast because they must sell the more dramatic moments. For instance, Peter and Bronny are still undergoing a monumental shift in their marriage because the former had had an affair. But the script is so poor, no performer, no matter how talented, can possibly save the material. The dialogue functions on the level of cheesy television, to refer to the script as Lifetime-like would actually pass as a compliment.
The marriage drama subplot does not work for several reasons. For one, the dialogue is too robotic, superficial, lacking a certain push to keep the viewer’s interest. At the very least, we should be mildly interested in the details of the affair and somewhat curious as to whether Peter and Bronny would actually choose to stay together for the sake of their family despite the increasingly powerful displays of supernatural phenomena in their home. Another reason is the lack of convincing or realistic rhythm in marital disputes. Notice scenes that show the couple arguing. It is almost always one-dimensional, painfully obvious. At times real couples fight not with words but through action or inaction—not necessarily physical violence but oftentimes through silences, insinuations, the hurtful details between the lines.
Because the people are not believable, the events happening all around them are not believable either. It does not help that the special and visual effects appear third-rate, one wonders if it might have been better if such displays were kept to a bare minimum. Sometimes horror lies in not seeing and comedy results in baring it all.
Directed by Greg McLean, “The Darkness” is an embarrassing attempt at horror, and filmmaking in general. This is what results when writers understand neither the psychology of its characters who just so happen to cross paths with otherworldly elements nor what makes horror savage and therefore engaging, thrilling, highly watchable. Most successful in the genre are those the viewers can actually believe to be real somewhere out there. The film suffers from a lack of ambition and common sense.