If you’ve ever wondered why insipid ‘middle class white family in a haunted house’ horror movies continue to be made, just take a look at the figures for The Darkness, a movie so bland that it blurs in the memory within hours of viewing. Made for an estimated (and paltry) $4 million, it took more than $10 million at the US box office. That’s a profit of more than 250% for a movie which offers nothing new to one of the film industry’s most over-populated genres, but simply regurgitates ideas from earlier movies while carefully remaining within the boundaries that will secure it a 15 certificate. If ever proof were needed that we, as an audience, get what we deserve, this is it…
Kevin Bacon (Super, Elephant White), for whom quality, high-profile roles seem to be growing increasingly rare these days, plays Peter Taylor, a hotshot project manager whose apparently idyllic home life masks a few metaphorical demons amongst his family members which become increasingly difficult to contain when his autistic son inadvertently allows five literal demons into their cosy suburban home.
The family has just returned from a holiday to the Grand Canyon, where young Mikey (David Mazouz) found five smooth pebbles bearing strange symbols in a cave into which he fell while no-one was watching. Like any boy, Mikey immediately hid these strange artefacts in his backpack as if they were some guilty secret before returning to his family. The Taylors aren’t home long before mum Bronny (Radha Mitchell – The Frozen Ground, London Has Fallen) and Dad notice a series of peculiar, but relatively innocuous, incidents around the house. Taps turn themselves on in empty rooms, doors that were closed are found inexplicably ajar, and the TV turns itself on. Less innocuous is the black handprint that mysteriously appears overnight on the wall above the bed of their teenage daughter, Stephanie (Lucy Fry), who, for some reason, begins to bear the brunt of these increasingly malevolent pranks. As the severity of the incidents escalates, Bronny begins to suspect that Mikey has been possessed in some way, especially when he begins talking about an invisible friend named Jenny and starts a fire in his bedroom which scorches one wall so that it resembles the entrance to a large, extremely dark, cave.
More interesting than the physical manifestations of these spirits – although seriously botched by a lifeless screenplay – is the possibility that the malign presence of the spirits’ has an influence on the personalities of the family members. There are hints that Peter was not always faithful to Bronny, and, although he resists her advances, he now finds himself attracted to his pretty new assistant at work. At home, Bronny begins drinking heavily, while Stephanie develops an eating disorder, the produce from which she conceals in a selection of plastic containers she keeps under her bed (ironically, their discovery is the most effective scene in the movie). It’s a strand that’s probably inspired by The Babadook, another flawed film, in which a woman’s psychological problems manifested themselves in the form of the titular demon, but in The Darkness it’s never given the prominence it warrants or is convincingly linked to the supernatural forces bearing down on the family.
Perhaps The Darkness’s biggest failing is that it simply isn’t scary, despite director Greg McLean using every hoary old trick he can think of. Loud noises and jump scares abound, and are, in fact, so prevalent that we actually become desensitised to them, while the shadowy figures that flit across the screen every now and then are about as unsettling as a weak-bladdered silhouette edging past your seat in the cinema. The Darkness is a bland concoction lacking ambition or imagination, and barely deserves to be labelled a horror movie.