Movie Review: THE DARKNESS (2016)
It’s called THE DARKNESS (2016), yet its opening shot and entire pre-credit sequence takes place in the bright sunshine of the Grand Canyon. In fact, for most of the movie, it’s sunny! Pass the sunscreen! But darkness? Sorry. In spite of its title, you won’t find much darkness here.
You won’t find much to like either.
THE DARKNESS opens with two families vacationing at the Grand Canyon, but the rest of the movie follows just one of these families, and that’s because they bring home with them something more than their luggage. They bring home a demon! Yikes!
Yup, Peter Taylor (Kevin Bacon), his wife Bronny (Radha Mitchell), their moody teenage daughter Stephanie (Lucy Fry) and their autistic son Michael (David Mazouz) bring home the unwelcome guest when young Michael falls into a secret cave and discovers weird cave paintings which must have been painted by the demon because the next thing we know, Michael has escaped from the cave—without any explanation of how he did so— and he now has a new invisible friend, Mr. Demon.
So, when the Taylors return home, the obligatory weird things start happening. They hear strange noises during the night, the neighbor’s dog barks at their house at all hours, a crow shows up inside their garage, and their son Michael begins to act weirder. If you’ve seen any of the endless plethora of haunted house/demon movies from the past ten years or so, you’ve seen everything that happens in this movie. THE DARKNESS offers little that is new.
The Taylors are slow to react because they’re used to dealing with the idiosyncrasies of their son, since he is autistic, but when he sets the house on fire, they finally start to pay attention, and by this point, they realize that what’s going on inside their house is more than just the doings of their son Michael. Something else now resides in their home, and like all good folks in these demon movies, they turn to a spiritualist for help.
There were parts to THE DARKNESS that I liked.
For example, I liked that the son in this story was autistic. It kept things fresh— for a while. It also gave a reason for the Taylors to be slow on the uptake when dealing with the weird goings-on inside their home. They’re used to it. Their son Michael exhibits what most people would term unusual behavior on a regular basis. So, when dirty handprints start showing up on walls in the middle of the night, whereas most folks would scratch their heads and say WTF?, the Taylors simply think it’s their son.
Interestingly enough, no one in the movie mentions that Michael is autistic until nearly two thirds of the way in, but it’s not difficult to figure out. Still, I thought this was a curious decision on the part of the screenwriters and not necessarily a good one. The sooner we know this, the sooner we would fully understand the lifestyle the Taylors are living on a regular basis.
Later in the movie, the story makes the point of saying that autism serves as a magnet for demons, which I thought was a different take on the subject.
Now, while I liked the acting in this film, I wasn’t wowed by David Mazouz’ performance as Michael. As someone who’s worked with people with autism, I thought Mazouz’ performance was limited. As played by Mazouz, Michael is pretty much mute and simply stares at walls a lot. While this isn’t necessarily inaccurate,it shows little range, as people with autism can do much more than what Michael does in this movie.
I did like the majority of the acting here, though, and it’s one of the better parts of the movie. Kevin Bacon leads the way as Peter Taylor, and Radha Mitchell is equally as good as his wife Bronny. The best part about these two is their reactions as parents dealing with this situation is spot-on. They do not overreact, nor do they wait forever to take action. They seemed like two people dealing with real life problems.
And that’s because they have a lot of real life issues on their plate. The biggest issue is raising their son Michael, but they also have to deal with their teenage daughter Stephanie. On top of this, there’s the pain of Peter’s recent extramarital affair. In fact, they have so many issues going on, the demon thing takes a while to rattle them because quite frankly they’re used to being rattled.
This is really the best part of the screenplay by Shayne Armstrong, Shane Krause, and director Greg McLean. They get the family situation right. In fact, this film might have been better had it not had any supernatural elements in it at all.
Both Kevin Bacon and Radha Mitchell are no strangers to horror.
While Bacon has enjoyed a long and varied career, he’s made several stops in the horror arena, including the original FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980), TREMORS (1990)- one of the best giant monster movies ever made-, and the TV series THE FOLLOWING (2013-2015).
Radha Mitchell starred in the SILENT HILL movies, and she starred opposite Timothy Olyphant in the remake of THE CRAZIES (2010), a movie I liked a lot.
Lucy Fry nails her performance as teen daughter Stephanie. Sure, this type of role is becoming cliche, but Fry’s performance is a standout nonetheless. Fry currently stars in TV’s WOLF CREEK and in the mini-series 11-22-63 (2016) based on Stephen King’s novel, where she plays Marina Oswald.
And Paul Reiser even shows up as Peter’s boss in an incredibly thankless role that goes absolutely no where. Yet, Reiser is very good in his brief screen time.
The biggest hit against THE DARKNESS is that it’s simply not scary, and there are a lot of reasons for this. Most of the blame has to fall on director Greg McLean. He has the perfect set-up for a horror movie and then does nothing with it. With the Taylor family story, the stage is set perfectly for the supernatural horror elements to take over, but sadly, they never do.
And that’s because nothing of substance really happens in this movie. It’s all set-up and no payoff.
And that demon who’s haunting the family? He’s pretty much a no-show. He has no agenda. Just why is he haunting this family? All we get is that demons haunt families, and they start with the children first, taking them and then the rest of the family back to their demon world. Now, I have no problem with this, but I wanted to know more. It’s mentioned all too briefly.
The demon also has little presence in this movie. There are no memorable images or signature moments in this one. There’s also nothing original. The strange noises in the middle of the night are right out of the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies and nowhere near as scary, and the demon-wants-your children plot point is out of more movies than I can name here, although the INSIDIOUS and SINISTER series both come to mind.
And to nitpick, I thought Kevin Bacon was a bit old for this role. He’s pushing 60, and he’s playing a dad with a teenage children. While not unrealistc, he did seem a bit long in the tooth for this role.
About the only thing that made me jump in THE DARKNESS was when Radha Mitchell’s Bronny would call out to her son at night after something weird had happened and say, “Michael?” and I found myself thinking of Michael Myers in the HALLOWEEN movies. I could only wish.
THE DARKNESS is a tepid horror movie with little to offer, best watched in the less expensive confines of your own home rather than at an expensive movie theater, if at all.