In terms of quality and diminishment, Greg Mclean’s Wolf Creek (2005) is to Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) what his The Darkness is to Hooper’s Poltergeist (1982). I mean that as someone who thinks Wolf Creek is pretty lousy and that Poltergeist is a depressing sidenote in Hooper’s career. Hopefully, this illustrates just how forgettable Mclean’s latest, The Darkness, really is. This entry into the subgenre of supernatural family-haunting flicks is best compared to Poltergeist, except it’s not on the level of Hooper’s corny original. It’s definitely closer to the 2015 remake you probably already forgot existed — a fate certain to befall The Darkness, too.
What I’m getting at here is that the movie’s bad, and no amount of Native American mythos, family-centric psychodrama nor Kevin Bacon is enough to save it. The premise is that, after a vacation to the Grand Canyon, Peter (Bacon) and Bronny’s (Radha Mitchell) autistic son, Michael (David Mazouz), has accidentally brought home an ancient, haunted rune from a forgotten cave. This little artifact starts to cause some minor problems at first — small things like faucets running for no reason — but slowly gets more sinister, with sooty handprints cropping up around the house and dogs that won’t stop barking at nothing. It’s not until part of the house catches fire that Peter and Bronny start to take things seriously and — thanks to some dramatically inert internet research — discover they’re being haunted by the spirits of the Anasazi.
There’s not much reason why, exactly, this family is being harassed by ancient, malevolent spirits, beyond the idea that they lost their rune. Of course, cause isn’t the focus here. It’s all about the spookiness which, unfortunately for us, never transpires. Mclean has zero knack for atmosphere — in fact, it always seems to be an afterthought. Instead, the scares (or the attempts at them) are of the cheapest variety, complete with musical stings and things jumping out from the shadows. It’s tactless, predictable horror.
To mitigate all this, Mclean has glazed the film in familial drama. Peter and Bronny’s marriage is struggling due to Peter’s past marital indiscretions, while their daughter, Stephanie (Lucy Fry, Vampire Academy), suffers from an eating disorder. While the notion of making this little haunted-house flick something more is admirable, Mclean doesn’t quite have the knack for it. Peter and Bronny’s marital strife works because Bacon and Mitchell have the talent to make it work, but the entire subplot about Stephanie’s eating disorder just comes and goes. Worse than all, though, is the way Michael’s autism is portrayed as pseudo-magical and mystical in a way that simply feels wrongheaded and insensitive. It’s a big misstep in a movie full of small ones. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some disturbing violence, brief sensuality and language.