From the producers of The Purge and Insidious, comes this terrifying supernatural thriller starring Kevin Bacon (TV's The Following) and Radha Mitchell (Silent Hill). When their young son (David Mazouz, TV's Gotham) brings home five mystical stones he found on their family's camping trip to the Grand Canyon, Peter (Bacon) and Bronny (Mitchell) begin to notice strange things happening in their house. Having awakened dark forces bound to the rocks, the family fights for survival as malicious demons feed off their fears and threaten to destroy them.
Who here likes jump scares? Ever since true horror films have been around, they have existed in one form or another. Then, around the time of the horror lull that took effect in the early 90s, jump scares got taken to a whole new level in some people’s eyes. Those people say that since then, jump scares became more prevalent; now fast forward to modern day where people would say that's all some horror movies have these days. I always considered that an overreaction until I saw ‘The Darkness.’ Here is a movie so derivative, so benign, and so unoriginal, that the over prevalent jump scares smacked me on the head like a ton of bricks.
Peter and Bronny Taylor (Kevin Bacon, and Radha Mitchell) are two normal parents who are on vacation hiking in The Grand Canyon with their two kids, Stephanie and Mikey (Lucy Fray and David Mazouz), when Mikey falls down a hole on the mountain and needs his sister’s assistance to get back up. Mikey is autistic, but ever since his fall, he has become dramatically distant and acquired a new imaginary friend named “Jenny.” Simultaneously, weird things start happening around the house, and no one can figure out why. But all roads lead to Mikey.
One of the major draws for me were its two leads. Kevin Bacon is an underrated actor; one I have always said would be perfect for a horror movie. But aside from the great 'Stir of Echoes' and 'Friday the 13th', he has stayed away from most horror films. The same goes for Radha Mitchell; I liked her performance in ‘Silent Hill,’ and even though she has only had marginal success with horror since then, I was hoping it would work well here. I will say, even with all my problems with this film, the acting is not an issue at all. I like both Bacon and Mitchell’s performances here, and they sell me on the trials and tribulations of having an autistic child that is seemingly getting worse. It does affect them, and their portrayal succeeds in selling me on their pain.
Unfortunately, the meandering plot does these actors a severe disservice. This movie is barely an hour and a half long, and for the first hour it is chock full of jump scares, and that is it. If you like watching faucets turn on for no reason, snakes pop out of nowhere, and dogs breaking into people's houses and attacking them, then this movie is for you. Because this film is nothing but that for the first hour. The main conflict of this film, whether it is Mikey or the house that is haunted, is ridiculous. Hell, there is actually an early scene that proves it isn't the house that is haunted. In this scene, again, faucets turn on for no reason, and a snake appears out of nowhere, all at another person’s house. And yet, time and time again Bronny (worst name ever) persists in thinking it's the house that is haunted.
What is even more maddening is that everything you see pertaining to the spirit in the first half of this film doesn't have anything to do with the actual possession of the last thirty minutes. Mikey has some rocks which he plays with throughout the movie that come into play in the end… and that is it. This movie only has enough plot to be a short story at the most, and it has more padding then the couch that I sat on to watch it. We should have gotten to what possessed Mikey in this film much sooner, because when we finally find out, there is some ridiculous campy fun in the last half hour.
This is a movie that pads itself out in order to make its meager runtime. It is at its strongest when that padding involves the drama of family members struggling to hold on to each other to keep their family together. Whenever they are focusing on the jump scares (because I won't even call the first half of this film horror), I wanted to yell at the screen, wondering why characters that I otherwise was invested in were acting in ways that defied logic. These actors deserve better here than cheap jump scares. When the spirit that haunted Mikey was finally introduced, I enjoyed the horror in a campy, throw everything at the wall and see what sticks, kind of way. Other than that the horror in this film is rote, and ripe with clichés that are a disservice to its cast.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Universal releases ‘The Darkness’ onto Blu-ray with a slip cover, that slips off to reveal an identical hard cover. Once opened, a BD-50 Blu-ray is on the right side of the case, and to your left is a Digital HD Ultraviolet code. Once popped into the player, you will be presented with a series of fresh BD-Live 2.0 theatrical trailers, followed by the usual Universal still frame main menu.
'The Darkness’ wants to haunt your dreams with a 1080P/MPEG-4 AVC encode, and while I wasn't absolutely blown away by the cinematography of this movie, it does what it sets out to do quite well in a minimalist kind of way. Darkness isn't a problem in ‘The Darkness,’ meaning those pesky black levels that have been a sticking point for me in most of my reviews are great here. A heavy portion of this movie takes place at night with deep and rich black levels that never crush or take away from any detail. And speaking of detail and clarity, its first opening shot of the Grand Canyon is absolutely gorgeous with vibrant color, clarity, and detail to spare right out of the gate.
My only gripe with this transfer is that for a horror movie that has two reasonably high profile leads, this movie doesn't exactly stretch to do anything interesting with its cinematography. At one point, you get to see the spirit’s realm where it resides, and while I think that scene is laughable just because of what transpires, it's a cool looking scene that I wouldn't mind exploring more. But it's over rather quickly and it goes back to its all too familiar cinematography that doesn’t excite me, though there is nothing wrong with it.
‘The Darkness’ aims to jump scare you out of your seat with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track that takes full advantage of the quality that I loved about this film oh so much. Maybe the reason the jump scares were so much more noticeable in this particular film is because of how aggressive they sound. Running faucets, creepy kids, and screams surround you during these jump scares, and it truly leads to an extremely dynamic sound mix that is impressive. There is one particular scene (that is as hilarious as it sounds) where the spirit wants its presence known, so it puts its handprints all around Stephanie's room, and her! The scene is ridiculous, but hearing the spirit plant his handprint all over my field of sound forced a smile on my face.
The LFE track gets aggressive when it needs to with deep bass levels. When the thuds and creepy noises kick in, it’s immensely effective. Vocals are clear and audio levels are at a generous volume. All in all, this is a great track that would make any horror movie noob jump out of their seat.
Alternate Ending (9:01 HD) - They were right to go with the ending they did in the theatrical release. This ending takes out the best scene in the movie.
Deleted Scenes (HD) - A collection of nine deleted scenes that add more depth to the characters; they should have sacrificed some jump scare scenes for some of these more humanizing moments.
With horror movies, there are the select few that I will watch every October around Halloween (‘The Thing,’ ‘Drag Me to Hell,’ ‘Evil Dead 2’). Then there are horror movies that I vowed never to watch again, they were so bad (‘Darkness Falls,’ ‘Dracula 2000,’ ‘Silent Hill Revelations.’) Lastly, there's the huge pile of horror films, where this movie resides, that I would maybe watch if nothing else was on, but otherwise am ambivalent about. The acting in this film from Bacon and Mitchell is quite good, and they deserve a better plot with more interesting things to do. But instead, their talents are largely squandered here, relegating them into the traditional horror movie cliché role of characters making questionable decisions that have already been proven ineffective. But that can be said for 95% of horror movies out there. What is worse than that is everything that happens in the first hour of the movie gets flushed down the toilet when they decide to introduce what the spirits really are and what they can do. This is a middling movie with so much padding that you could cut about half of the scenes involving the spirit and make it more of a character piece, and it would be all the better for it. I feel like if it wasn't for these strong leads, I wouldn't even remember this movie enough to write this for your enjoyment today.