The Darkness is, in many ways, a conventional, frequently predictable, and generally pretty familiar piece of haunted house cinema. Even the youngest of horror fans has seen a lot of these movies by now, and you can probably guess where this one is going long before it gets there. It includes several themes, ideas, and moments that we’ve seen in everything from The Haunting and Poltergeist to The Conjuring and Insidious.
And yet, with all that said, as far as “conventional, predictable, and generally familiar” haunted house movies go, Greg McLean’s The Darkness is more than a little well-made: handsomely shot, relatively expeditious in its pacing, full of good actors, etc. It’s a “peanut butter and jelly” movie, basically; you know what you’re gonna get, you’ve eaten it a thousand times, but hey, at least the ingredients have been applied in satisfying fashion.
Kevin Bacon and Radha Mitchell star as a pair of loyal parents who have a pair of troubled kids. Their moody teenage daughter is suffering from an eating disorder, and their young son is afflicted with autism. But like most parents, Peter and Bronny Taylor do everything they can to give their kids a safe, comfortable life.
And then Mikey goes and brings home a bunch of ancient, cursed stones he found inside a Native America burial chamber during a family trip to the Grand Canyon. (Oops.) Suffice to say that things swiftly go from difficult to horrifying inside the Taylor home; those ancient Native American spirits clearly want their damn stones back. Unfortunately Mikey is the only one who knows about the stones–and he’s not talking.
From there it’s a comfortably simple collection of character development and jump scares until we hit a third act that’s actually fairly creepy. (To be fair, I am a sucker for the “angry Native American spirits” motif.) Once you accept that The Darkness is not exactly aiming for any originality awards, you can settle in and enjoy the solid performances: Kevin Bacon and Radha Mitchell work well together, plus we’re offered a few too-brief moments from Matt Walsh, Paul Reiser, and Ming-Na Wen, which help to keep the flick afloat through the talkier bits. Even the kid actors (Lucy Fry and David Mazouz) are good, and we all know what sort of damage child actors can do to a horror movie when they’re not on point.
The Darkness touches on a few provocative themes–most specifically a parent’s fear that he or she will not be able to protect their children from something terrible–but for the most part it’s simply the same ol’ haunted house tale, only with a slightly different origin story, a few appreciably scary moments, and a very strong cast. It’s one of those horror movies that probably won’t make much of an impact at the box office, but will probably find some appreciative viewers once it pops up on cable. (And Netflix, of course.)
3 out of 5 sacred, cursed burritos that I stole from the Grand Canyon
Photo: BH Tilt