By Chaz Lipp
The new horror thriller The Darkness is so inept, you’d think the filmmakers deliberately tanked it. The whole thing feels unfinished – like a rough cut that someone decided to dump into theaters. A talented cast is saddled with non-characters who deliver stupefying, empty-headed dialogue. The film manages to exploit both Ancestral Puebloan culture as well as individuals with autism, creating an unusually offensive experience.
We meet two families vacationing in the Grand Canyon area as The Darkness opens. Mr. and Mrs. Carter are portrayed by Matt Walsh (Veep) and Jennifer Morrison (Once Upon a Time) – we never see them again. Why two recognizable actors took such thankless, nothing roles is anybody’s guess. Instead the focus is on Bronny and Peter Taylor (Radha Mitchell and Kevin Bacon) and their two kids, autistic Michael (David Mazouz) and moody Stephanie (Lucy Fry). Michael manages to unwittingly free some “Anasazi” spirits from a long-unexplored cave, bringing back some magical stones that turn the Taylor household into a portal to another dimension.
Amidst the total narrative mess, directed by Greg McLean (Wolf Creek, Wolf Creek 2), there’s a hint of actual drama involving the dysfunctional Taylor family. Stephanie has developed a debilitating eating disorder. Peter has a history of adultery, which Bronny hasn’t been able to forgive him for. Both parents have grown extremely stressed with the special needs of Michael. Had the filmmakers ditched all the poltergeist stuff and developed The Darkness as a family drama, maybe they would’ve had something worth watching.
As it stands, only Lucy Fry seems fully vested in her role. The 24-year-old actress is entirely believable as a mid-teen and her clashes with her parents (including an outright physical attack on her mother) are easily the most frightening and disturbing scenes. Otherwise it’s all laughable silliness, loaded with scenes that begin and end almost arbitrarily. Paul Reiser and Ming-Na Wen are on-hand as Peter’s boss and the boss’ wife. One minute Reiser’s boorish boss is encouraging Peter to have an affair with a new hire, the next he’s recommending a grandmother/granddaughter exorcist team to vanquish the so-called “Anasazi” spirits (that antiquated name has long been considered insensitive and is just another example of how out-of-step the filmmakers are).
In short, The Darkness is a 92-minute unfunny joke of a film in which hardly anyone seems to have been even trying.
The Darkness Images: Blumhouse Tilt; High Top Releasing; Universal Pictures