The latest output from horror mainstay Blumhouse Pictures, The Darkness is the creative nadir of modern-day horror films. It’s a meandering and derivative affair that ultimately amounts to soul-less imitation of countless other films in the genre. What undoes it even further is how much it shamelessly borrows from other Blumhouse productions. When it’s all said and done, this amalgam of clichéd tropes feels more like self-parody than it does a legitimate haunted house/possession story.
After preadolescent Mikey (David Mazouz) stumbles onto a Native American burial ground and takes some stones home with him, strange developments begin occurring. These occurrences range from the neighbor’s dog barking to strange odors around the house to an imaginary friend. The overabundance of the supernatural is one of many issues I had with The Darkness. For the first half hour or so, these events occur without any endgame in sight. They’re just there to be off-putting. In any horror film, regardless of sub-genre, there needs to be a careful balance in how the scares manifest to the audience. If everything is scary, then ultimately nothing is scary. The exception to this rule, at least in my estimation, is if you are playing your film for camp value (Evil Dead 2 is a prime example). Thanks to the overblown score, there is a small element of camp to be found.
What undoes the ‘scares’ even further is the sheer amount of filler scenes and subplots. Because of the presence of the stones, the family’s inner demons begin to surface. The mother becomes an alcoholic, the father has an affair and the daughter develops an eating disorder. None of these subplots have any worthwhile payoff or connect to the intentions of the stone spirits. There’s hints that these problems were prominent well before the stones came along; all of those problems are implied to have occurred prior to the events of the film, which makes them feel even more pointless. Even worse, all the background information surrounding the spirits is spoon-fed to the characters through some very descriptive YouTube videos. The resolutions are incredibly trite and aren’t deep enough to properly flesh out the characters. This is another large problem. If you’re going to spend so much time on your characters, then you need to explore their makeup in a way that goes beyond a superficial level.
At first, all the family members pin the events on Mikey’s autism. To be perfectly frank, the way this film used autism as a plot device to explain the supernatural was offensive. He’s not an evil kid but his mental deficiency is used as an explanation as to why he is more susceptible to supernatural manipulation. This is not a blind accusation pointed out by one of the parents, out of paranoia. When father Peter (Kevin Bacon) is doing ‘research’ on the internet, there are many articles pointing out the connection between autism and paranormal activity (no pun intended). I’ve seen some pretty ridiculous explanations about possessed children in horror films (Blumhouse’s own Insidious included) but this made me furious.
Speaking of pitiful explanations, the mythology behind the stones is so ridden with plot holes, you could throw a boulder through them. It’s incredibly muddled and their appearances are reminiscent of everything from Sinister to Paranormal Activity. Part of what increases the familiarity surrounding The Darkness is the visual composition and shot structure. Too many shots are of shadowy figures moving hastily through dark corridors and vapid living rooms. McLead leaves no cliché behind in this mishmash; even bringing in a Poltergeist-esque climax that is both disappointing and nonsensical. Granted, the horror genre is not entirely known for originality but it is known for reinvention. The Darkness is both unoriginal and un-inventive.
Every so often, a film comes along that makes me question my passion for cinema. I walk into every film with an open mind and always look for something to admire, even in the most abysmal of circumstances. I couldn’t find a single element of The Darkness that I found either positive or worthwhile. As a horror film, it fails at being scary. As a family drama, it fails at presenting worthwhile dilemmas and solutions to those problems. As a movie of any sort, it’s entirely self-serving and exists solely to cash in on audiences desperate for any sort of horror film fix. After the credits rolled, the only ‘darkness’ I could find was the black hole in my day where the 92 minutes I wasted in the theater used to be.