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Haunted Sideshow

Dustin Putman

The Darkness  (2016)
1½ Stars
Directed by Greg McLean.
Cast: Kevin Bacon, Radha Mitchell, Lucy Fry, David Mazouz, Ming-Na Wen, Paul Reiser, Jennifer Morrison, Matt Walsh, Parker Mack, Ilza Rosario, Alma Martinez, Trian Long Smith.
2016 – 92 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for thematic elements, some disturbing violence, brief sensuality and language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman for, May 12, 2016.
"The Darkness" is a mostly lame, decidedly tame supernatural horror movie starring actors far better than the project at hand. The family in peril, the Taylors, take a mighty long time recognizing they are surrounded by malevolent entities and mystic hauntings, all the better for a near-ceaseless cacophony of unsuccessful musical stingers and weak jump scares. Writer-director Greg McLean (2005's haunting, grisly "Wolf Creek" and 2014's no-holds-barred "Wolf Creek 2") is clearly having an off-day here, while his and co-writer Shane Krause's screenplay is choppy enough to suspect post-production tinkering. If there is anything inspired about the film, it is the glimpses of semi-gritty familial dysfunction tucked in between its achingly standard haunted house mumbo-jumbo. Unfortunately, these serious threads are handled with an undernourished patness that reveals more concern for derivative fright tactics than any of the characters.

A camping trip to the Grand Canyon appears to go off without a hitch for the Taylor clan. Unbeknownst to unfaithful father Peter (Kevin Bacon), recovering alcoholic mother Bronny (Radha Mitchell) and bulimic teenage daughter Stephanie (Lucy Fry), autistic son and brother Michael (David Mazouz) has stumbled upon five rocks that once belonged to the ancient Native American Anasazi tribe. When he brings them home, it sets into motion a chain of bizarre demonic events as shadowy spirits latch onto the boy with the intention of growing strong enough to claim him for their otherworldly realm.

"Do you believe in a higher power?" healer Gloria (Ilza Rosario) asks Peter late in "The Darkness." "Now would be a good time to start." Whether or not the Taylors are spiritual people, there is no excuse for how ridiculously slow they are to take action as they are witness to unexplainable phenomena almost literally around every corner. Rancid smells and dirty handprints on sheets are one thing, but how to explain locked doors opening and water faucets and TVs turning on by themselves? A scene where Bronny watches as a moving figure under a sheet dissipates into thin air is such an extreme encounter with the beyond that any half-intelligent person would be out of the house in an instant. When she finally broaches the topic to Peter that something strange is going on, she questions how Michael could possibly have gotten ahold of matches from a cupboard above the refrigerator and somehow conveniently forgets to mention the case of the mysteriously vanishing ghostly being she has observed a minute earlier.

As "The Darkness" winds its way to a hokey conclusion, Kevin Bacon (2015's "Black Mass"), Radha Mitchell (2013's "Olympus Has Fallen"), Lucy Fry (Hulu's "11.22.63") and David Mazouz (TV's "Gotham") nevertheless tackle their roles with all the conviction one would hope to find in a straight dramatic piece. Despite their characters' occasionally erratic actions and overdramatic tempers, they feel like a real family, warts and all (that the autistic Michael stays at home with his mom every day when he is certainly high-functioning enough to go to school shows a distinct lack of understanding of the disorder, however). How the same director capable of making such tough, unnerving features as the "Wolf Creek" series could be responsible for "The Darkness" is anyone's guess. Alas, with no stylistic personality to call its own and little to distinguish it from countless other like-minded supernatural films, it could have been made by just about anyone. And, who the fuck is Jenny?
© 2016 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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