Fans of horror movies need to be grateful for Blumhouse, the production company that has the muscle to put some scary movies into wide distribution. This firm has been behind the “Paranormal Activity” series as well as “Sinister” and “Oculus,” along with the second and third “Purge” movies. Unfortunately, sometimes some disappointments manage to get out there, such as “The Lazarus Effect” and most recently “The Darkness.”
Red flags should have gone up before the production of “The Darkness” when it was evident that the screenplay was yet another story about a modern family whose house is besieged by restless or sinister spirits. “Poltergeist” and “Paranormal Activity” territory.
It is particularly a letdown in that “The Darkness” features Kevin Bacon and Radha Mitchell in lead roles. Bacon has had his hand in superb horror classics. He was one of those who helped establish the slasher movie maxim that if you are a sexually active young person, you are destined to be sliced and diced by a serial killer. His character Jack certainly and literally got that point in “Friday the 13th.” Bacon also is well remembered for being the reluctant hero Valentine McKee in the cult classic “Tremors” and starred in the haunting “Stir of Echoes.”
Mitchell, meanwhile, played the determined Rose Da Silva in the intense and bloody “Silent Hill.”
In “The Darkness,” Bacon and Mitchell play Peter and Bronny Taylor, a couple with a teen daughter Stephanie (Lucy Fry) and pre-teen son Michael (David Mazouz) who is autistic.
During a camping trip in the Grand Canyon, Michael falls into a cave when the ground gives away. He is not hurt but finds himself in a place where spooky drawings are on the wall, and he discovers five stones with etchings on them. Naturally he collects the stones and takes them home with him.
Soon after the Taylors return home, Michael reveals he has a new invisible friend. So here we have a familiar development in this horror sub-genre: The youngest child in the family, like Carol Ann in “Poltergeist” and Kristi in the “Paranormal Activity” films, are the only ones who can interact with these entities.
Also in retread mode are the usual bumps in the night to indicate some uninvited spiritual guests are romping around, as well as initially harmless pranks like water faucets turning on by themselves.
The Taylors are not as enjoyable to watch in their home environment as the Freelings were in “Poltergeist.” There is underlying tension between Peter and Bronny. Stephanie has her own psychological problems. And Michael, well, he sits around a lot and stares at the wall. He does some things that are beginning to spook Peter.
Once Bronny convinces Peter there is something strange going on in the house beside Michael’s antics, the movie segues into the now traditional computer-era scenes of people Googling things on the Internet in an effort to unravel what is going on.
And what is going in such house hauntings as these usually is either a terrible incident years earlier in the house from which the victims’ spirits are still stirred up because of no closure yet; or something has disturbed or irritated dormant entities (like: if you build a housing tract over a cemetery, it is wise to move the bodies as well as the grave markers when you relocate the burial grounds). In “The Darkness,” Michael’s innocent collecting of the five stones has set in motion a terrifying prophecy from Native American lore.
We could go into the whole story of the ancient Native American civilization known as the Anasazi and their tie-in with the stones, along with their mysterious disappearance, and what the etchings on the stones represent, but does it really matter?
Things do escalate in the Taylor home, but there just are not enough scares, even when an expert is brought in to purge these evil beings.
The screenplay, co-written by director Greg McLean along with Shayne Armstrong and Shane Krause, lacks any sense of dread or even peril. Injecting the family tensions of the Taylors obviously is a device to set up a chance at redemption for the family. Peter is emotionally detached from Michael, so that has to be fixed as a byproduct of ending the threat.
“The Darkness” is another house haunting feature that offers nothing new and in fact might have the audience stifling yawns. It is a shame, especially given the participation by Mitchell and Bacon.