Tweetable Takeaway: The scariest part of #TheDarkness is how predictable & derivative it is. Tweet
The scariest part of THE DARKNESS isn’t anything occurring onscreen. Rather, it’s a slow, creeping feeling as the minutes drag on that the movie simply will never end. The thought of being stuck with these characters forever is almost unbearable. Luckily, the end credits finally roll. There’s plenty that happens onscreen, don’t get me wrong. The Darkness has evil spirit rocks, dog attacks, cat strangling, faucets turning on, cheating spouses, bulimic daughters, alcoholic mothers, and an exorcism to top it all off. We’ve seen most of it a hundred times before, and done better. The rest is predictable, and the tiny bit that is bizarre enough to be interesting is quickly buried in the dull tedium of it all. The Darkness is forgettably titled, which is good, because with any luck the darkness is exactly where this movie will return to.
Meet the Taylor family. Peter (Kevin Bacon) and Bronny (Radha Mitchell) play parents to oldest daughter Stephanie (Lucy Fry) and autistic son Michael (David Mazouz). We meet them on vacation at the Grand Canyon, where Michael falls into a cave and finds five stones with engravings on them. He puts them in his backpack and brings them back home. Unfortunately, the stones represent Native American Anasazi spirits, and these spirits are pissed. Strange things start occurring. In one of many callbacks to the (vastly superior) film Poltergeist, Michael seems to have befriended the spirits behind the rocks, and names one of them Jenny. A rancid smell manifests itself, faucets start running on their own, and black, soot-covered handprints appear around the house. A snake appears at grandma’s house, and a coyote in Michael’s treehouse. In one of the movie’s more tasteless decisions, most of the occurrences are brushed off as exhibitions of Michael’s autism. Handled more delicately, maybe such a plot device would work. Instead, autism feels like a gimmick the filmmakers exploit to write off the stupidity of everyone inside the house who isn’t Michael. Far too late into the movie do Peter and Bronny finally admit that something supernatural has befallen them. And that’s only after multiple Google searches and Youtube videos about bad smells and evil spirits.
Of course, the mark of any lazy horror film is the use of jump scares. And for anyone familiar with the beats of a scary movie, the scares can be seen coming from a mile away. Character goes to open a refrigerator door. Camera lingers. Music cuts out. When the character closes that fridge door, there isn’t anything else to expect BUT something to be waiting to scare the character. And that’s exactly what we get. Shadowy figure accompanied by an orchestral shriek. Sure, the music is so loud that you’ll be startled even if you were expecting it. But I could scream unexpectedly behind you and you’d have the same experience as this film. Plus you’d still have the money in your pocket that you would have wasted seeing this film.
All of that might be tolerable if there exists at least one character we care for in this film. But we don’t. All of them are quite wretched, and rather than fear for their safety, I found myself rooting for the evil spirits to pick them off, and quickly. I’m not sure if any of the writers of The Darkness have ever been engaged in an actual argument before. Or maybe I’ve just been having disagreements the wrong way all my life. Here’s an example of an argument we get in the movie: Character 1 remarks on something about Character 2. Character 2 immediately begins screaming and accuses Character 1 of something. Character 1 retaliates. Repeat. It’s as if every discussion goes from 1 to 11 in seconds. Children on the school playground having a scuffle are more civilized. It doesn’t help when Kevin Bacon, giving as fine a performance as ever, plays a character who repeatedly cheats on his wife. Even stranger, a subplot exists in which Paul Reiser, playing Peter’s boss, hires young, attractive females for the sole purpose of delivering them to Peter’s office so that Peter will seduce and sleep with them. We discover this while Peter and his boss are out to dinner with their two wives and they sneak off to the bar. It’s a hell of a subplot, and it never really goes anywhere or resurfaces, like many other plots in the film. Another involves their daughter having bulimia and hiding months or years of vomit in Tupperware containers under her bed. How has she hid so many without them being found? And why doesn’t she use the toilet in the bathroom attached to her bedroom so there’s no evidence?
These are questions one is not supposed to ask with this film, because the whole thing comes apart as soon as one does. The plot is so ridiculous that it borders on hilarious. All that’s missing is a cast without the ability to act and The Darkness could have been the newest standard in so-bad-it’s-good movies to watch and make fun of with friends. Sadly, Kevin Bacon saves as much as he can with his reliable performance, and other cast members do the same. As it stands, The Darkness exists as a so-bad-it’s-bad movie, and much like those possessed rocks in the Grand Canyon, an unfortunate few will still have the bad luck of stumbling across it.
I give The Darkness 1 evil rock spirit out of 5.
Score: 1 out of 5
Wil Loper | Contributor