The Darkness (2016) and the fall of haunted house movies
Over the last decade there has been an outpouring of haunted house movies. Some of the better ones have included INSIDIOUS (2010) and THE CONJURING (2013), but the vast majority have been flat imitations of past genre hits. The standard formula is simple: step 1. Child sees ghosts; step 2. Family hear noises, step 3. Mum calls in a psychic and step 4. Showdown. Probably the finest example of the formula – 1982’s POLTERGEIST – was not the first to use it but what’s happened recently is that haunted house movies have simply applied that formula again and again in a war of attrition against movie-goers. The horror genre has form here – with the 1980s slasher cycle setting the bar for repetition – but the relentless ‘bump in the night’ scare is nauseating in its unoriginality and those utilising it are becoming irritating in their comatosed lethargy. The point at issue here is essentially that scenes from any one of these movies could be cut and pasted into any other, without the audience noticing any difference or distinction whatsoever. When you have reached that pit of filmmaking, and when there are so few unique features of individual movies, it’s time to re-assess a genre for sure.
THE DARKNESS (2016) is the latest case. I went to the cinema last night to see this film and the adherence to the formula set out above is unyielding. Kevin Bacon’s family pick up some Native American demons whilst on vacation and bring them home to their suburban dwelling. The demons bring out ‘the darkness’ in people and cause them to turn against one another – that’s the starting-gun for a family breakdown driven by bulimia, infidility and alcoholism. For much of the movie, you’d forget this was a horror picture and wonder whether you’re watching a melodrama. That’s no bad thing in itself but when the scares do come they’re feeble and affectingly banal. It’s just the usual creaking doors, noises in the attic and taps turning on on their own – you’ve seen all this a hundred times before (THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE, BURNT OFFERINGS, THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, THE CHANGELING etc.). Of course, Bacon’s autistic son has a special bond with the demons and spends most of the running time starring at the wall in his room whilst counting to 3. It seems said demons want to take him away through a portal in his bedroom – much like Reverend Kane wanted Carol Anne to enter his dimension in the POLTERGEIST franchise; but that’s not where the comparison ends. The medium who comes to Bacon’s rescue even looks a little like Zelda Rubinstein’s character and to make things worse, the cinematography at the beginning of the movie takes more than a hint from the fantastical opening to (the under-appreciated) POLTERGEIST 2 : The Other Side (1986). It’s a job of pure parrotry and a straighforward ersatz movie made to dupe, not to entertain.
The DARKNESS (2016) is in no way frightening, and neither is it stimulating. There’s frankly nothing here of genuine individualistic merit and the whole thing feels like a dull cinematic commute. The filmmakers are quite content to recycle and regurgitate, leaving us no choice in feeling melancholic for a genre which is fast approaching its lowest ebb. The only saving grace here is that director Greg McLean doesn’t take the found-footage approach.
Hotdog rating: 3/10 (3 points for the cast alone, who do a professional job despite the failures)