The Darkness is not a good movie by any measure. It’s not even a decent horror flick, which typically has a lower standard to meet. It’s startling, but not scary. And once the jump scares lose their effect, there’s really not much left to look forward to in this film. The one bright spot is the excellent cast of familiar faces who manage to breathe some life into the otherwise lifeless dialog, but all of their talent is wasted on a boring, uneven script.
The Taylor family goes on a trip to the Grand Canyon where son, Michael (David Mazouz), an autistic child, discovers a secret chamber in the cliffs, which houses five mysterious stones and strange shadowy paintings on the walls. Michael takes the stones and brings them with him when he and his family head home. Soon after, mother, Bronny (Radha Mitchell), and father, Peter (Kevin Bacon), begin noticing odd occurrences around the house, like strange smells and a faucet that keeps turning on. Then their children begin acting out, like daughter, Stephanie (Lucy Fry), who becomes obsessed with her figure, and Michael, who starts a fire in his room. Even Bronny and Peter begin fighting as dark forces seem to be affecting their lives. After all conventional solutions are exhausted, the family is forced to explore the unconventional to try and save themselves before it’s too late.
By now a good barometer for how much horror is in a horror film is its CARA rating. PG-13 typically means very little horror. In the case of The Darkness, that rating is spot on. There is basically nothing truly scary in this entire film, but you can see the potential everywhere. The eeriness of strange noises in the home, appliances turning on, the smell of death in the air, and more lay a nice foundation for more chills to come. Unfortunately, the film spends more time foundation building, seemingly taking the film in different directions, with Michael first having an invisible friend named Jenny, then predicting the approach of a “blue star”, to finally seeing manifested spirits. Audiences are too busy understanding the problem to be scared by it.
It feels like the writers tried to get too clever with the antagonizing force in the film when something more straightforward would have sufficed. The filmmakers hint at the stones manipulating the occupants in the home, bringing out the worst in them. And had the film taken steps to actually show that, then that would have been interesting. Instead, the family’s behavior can easily be explained as stress from dealing with Michael and his destructive actions. In this case, audiences would be better served if the spirits were just angry specters that needed to be vanquished, similar to the film Poltergeist, which is what The Darkness definitely tries to be, especially towards the end.
The most impressive aspect of the film is the outstanding cast. The actors that make up the family do an excellent job and really convey the fear that the filmmakers desperately want the audience to feel. More importantly, it’s in their mundane lines that the humanity actually comes through, helping to make the film just a little more watchable. The most impressive aspect of the cast, however, is its caliber of actors. Kevin Bacon and Radha Mitchell alone deserve to be in a better film, but they’re also accompanied by stellar cameos from Matt Walsh, Jennifer Morrison, Ming-na Wen, and even Paul Reiser! This is probably the best cast I’ve seen in a low-budget movie, and their obvious talents cry out for better material.
The Darkness feels incomplete. There’s a sense that there’s more to this story than what audiences get to see, but so much was cut out for time that all that’s left is a disjointed puzzle. That’s probably the most charitable thing that can be said about this film, but it’s also probably the least compelling argument to see it.