“It’s hard to believe such a project was helmed by Greg McLean”
The Darkness is a paltry, pitiful excuse for a horror film in the day and age where the game is being slowly but surely shifted in the direction of compelling, subversive works such as David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows, Robert Eggers’ The Witch, or even Ti West’s The Sacrament. It’s a film that feels twelve steps behind most horror films released every year, so much so that one feels this film could’ve been all the rage in 2010. Or maybe even the nineties. Or maybe, simply never, but even that’s more optimism that the film doesn’t deserve.
It’s hard to believe such a project was helmed by Greg McLean, the visionary who brought Wolf Creek, its sequel, and its recently developed mini-series, to life, one of the scariest horror franchises of the modern day. McLean took such a simple concept and crafted it into two horror films that boasted distinct visual styles and a plethora of tense, atmospheric suspense that wasn’t for the faint of heart. With The Darkness, it’s like he waves the white flag in defeat without ever having been defeated, going where the puck has been only to arrive when the team is already on the next power play. Even if this is a project done in hopes to get another one greenlit, it’s embarrassing.
The film revolves around Peter and Bronny Taylor (Kevin Bacon and Radha Mitchell), parents of the teenage Stephanie (Lucy Fry) and their younger, autistic child Mikey (David Mazouz), who go on a trip to the Grand Canyon one day. While having a cookout, Mikey finds a small crevasse that houses black rocks with a variety of symbols on them. Before coming back to the surface, he pockets the rocks and proceeds on his with his adventures.
Once they are back home, however, a number of strange occurrences begin for the small family. Sinks keep turning on, handprints are appearing in strange places, and certain noises are heard all through the house. Mikey blames all of these instances on “Jenny,” yet another imaginary friend in the long-running line of troubled youth who have an invisible spirit friend that takes the blame for all the door-slamming and startling circumstances inside the family’s home, similar to Paranormal Activity, specifically the third instalment.
Enough chaos ensues in the house, with the peak being Mikey attempting to burn down the house entirely, to motivate both Peter and Bronny to try to investigate the possibility of supernatural forces toying with their autistic son’s psyche. But this doesn’t happen until we sit through a series of perfunctory jumpscares before coming to a long-winded and nauseatingly familiar conclusion involving a Spanish woman who has the courage to perform spiritual healing during a sequence that echoes Insidious.
Even worse is that, half the time during the paranormal occurrences Mikey and the family witness, the audience is robbed of seeing what’s happening. It’s a common trope of this genre that drives me insane, especially in a film where you know a sequel isn’t planned nor is an entire universe crafted. The film settles for the bare-basics and successfully produces a lazy product that doesn’t even have the gall nor confidence to show you what’s happening to the characters or what the character of interest is even seeing.
All of The Darkness‘s derivative aspects could be forgiven if the film was the least bit entertaining. Take The Gallows last year, a terrific little horror film that, yet again, capitalized off the heavily milked found footage genre, yet still found ways to be captivating and entertaining through constant tension and an emphasis on atmosphere. The Darkness feels drearily void of anything resembling atmosphere, stuck in an inert position to do nothing but profile things as they are, adding no layer of tension throughout the entire film.
Couple that with a screenplay by a trio of writers (McLean included) and you have a film that just completely fails at doing anything besides recalling films gone past. Just to add more salt to an exposed wound, The Darkness was distributed by Blumhouse Productions, the same company that not only released the aforementioned Gallows, but also Creep, The Green Inferno, Unfriended, and the Oscar-nominated Whiplash amongst some of their decorated and commendable catalogue. Again, even hoping this film was made in efforts to keep the studio’s lights on is an insult to the lights themselves.