MAY 20, 2016
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)
It's rare that I don't see a new wide release horror movie on its opening weekend (outside of the busy October period, anyway), but I'm glad I waited to catch The Darkness until today for presumably once-in-a-movie's-lifetime experience I had waiting for the damn thing to start. For starters, I went to a theater I don't usually go to (because it's a dump) due to the fact that their first showing was 25 minutes earlier than my usual theater (both about the same distance from my house), so that was 25 minutes earlier I could get to work. Alas, as the sole ticket buyer who arrived right at the scheduled showtime, the "projectionist" (button pusher) apparently wasn't planning on running the movie, so after a few minutes of sitting in, yes, the darkness (the timed lights still went down) I went out and told them to start it. After a few more minutes, the dimmed lights went out entirely, and the trailer reel began... but I could only hear them - there was still no image on the screen.
Of course, if I was seeing Civil War, it'd just be "a thing that happened", and also I probably wouldn't have been alone in the theater. But for a movie called THE DARKNESS, sitting for 10-15 minutes in total darkness (the exit signs don't illuminate here) with no one to joke about the situation with (besides my Twitter followers, of course) was kind of a delightfully strange occurrence - someone could have conceivably walked into the theater quietly and I wouldn't have even been able to see them. And, needless to say, by the time they finally got their shit together (apparently the system had to be reset or something) and got the movie going, it was just about the same time the screening at my preferred theater started, meaning my time-saving measure had been a total bust.
Oddly, this was the 2nd time in a row for me that a projectionist had to be told to do his/her job, as myself and some friends were the only ticket buyers for another movie over the weekend, and as with this showing it seems word that a ticket(s) had been purchased never reached him/her. While we waited for that movie to start I told my friends about the only time that had ever happened to me before, which is when I was the only person (meaning: no friends to share the experience) at an afternoon weekday screening of Urban Legends: Final Cut and had to go out and find someone to show me and me alone the movie. I don't know what the odds are that this could happen to a person twice in a week, so I certainly wasn't expecting it to happen again today... but I'm pretty sure the odds are better than they are for the other insane coincidence - which is that when The Darkness finally started, I was greeted with the sight of Jennifer Morrison. Yes, the STAR OF URBAN LEGENDS: FINAL CUT! I would seriously believe that I'd have a better chance at winning the lottery than I would at somehow being the only person in the theater for two Jennifer Morrison movies and having to go back into the lobby to ask someone to let me see her in action.
I also couldn't have predicted that they'd hire a recognizable actor (and another - Matt Walsh - as her husband) to appear in a single scene, with no actual closeups or even much dialogue, never to be seen again. But I also highly doubt that is the case, because I spent a good chunk of the film's 90 or so minutes being reminded that it had clearly been re-edited and/or re-shot, and thus Morrison and Walsh probably had at least one or two other scenes that were removed in the process. Almost until the very end the movie feels truncated; characters are introduced and quickly forgotten (Radha Mitchell's mother being the worst example), conversations suddenly blow up into arguments (or arguments quickly reach their cutoff point), as if a chunk was removed in order to move things along, etc. It is suggested that Kevin Bacon's character is having an affair with Morrison in this one scene (they're at the Grand Canyon and Mitchell, on an elevated hike, spies them returning from some unknown spot, with Walsh asking "Where did you two sneak off to?" or something along those lines), but since we never see her again it's not something you'll still be thinking about by the time - an hour or so into the movie - that it actually comes up. And there's a subplot about their daughter's bulimia that is resolved so quickly that viewers with actual eating disorders might take offense. She also asks Bacon if she can take her driver's license exam and he says "A promise is a promise," but I am still unsure if he's saying "Yes, I promised you could and that hasn't changed", or "No, you promised you wouldn't do this shit anymore and now there has to be consequences" - not that it matters because it too is never mentioned again anyway. I mean, I don't need to be hand-held, and it's not like the movie is confusing as a result, but it's hard to get a firm grasp on the characters when so much of their meat has been taken off the bone, so to speak.
Luckily, they DON'T seem to disrupt the character arc for Mikey, their younger son who has autism. His behaviors are the usual sort of things we see in movies (forgive me if I'm somewhat ignorant on autism; most of what I "know" comes from movies so if any of this rings false blame them, not me): he counts things, gets fixated on certain objects (he forces Mitchell to buy a pair of balloons that get more screentime than Jennifer Morrison, that's for sure), carries a backpack everywhere, etc. His "off" behavior allows for the obligatory ignorance on the parents' part when he unknowingly invites some demonic presence into their home by taking some stones from a burial site he finds at the Grand Canyon. Weird handprints start appearing everywhere, faucets are left on, he gets an imaginary friend named Jenny... all of these things are the demons' fault, but they chalk it up to new mannerisms related to his disorder. It's not until Mitchell's mom gets attacked by a snake that appeared out of nowhere that they start considering other options. Unfortunately, that's an "end of act two" decision (and mostly on Mitchell's part - Bacon needs further convincing), so you have to wait a damn long time for these people to finally get proactive about their increasingly dangerous situation.
And how do they get proactive? If you guessed "calling in an expert to cleanse the house", you are a genius (but not really, because that's what always happens). True to the movie's form, it's very clunky; basically at about 40 minutes or so into the movie Bacon's boss (Paul Reiser!) and his wife (Ming-Na Wen) tell them about a healer woman who helped their son (whose affliction is unexplained, and we never see the kid of course, so if he had like cancer or was similarly being haunted, we do not know). For some reason it takes like five extra steps for them to tell them the person's name - Reiser has to remind Bacon about her in person, then Bacon emails Reiser asking for the person's name, and a day later Reiser replies (via text) something like "Have your wife call my wife to get the number". Huh? In this day and age, why is it taking this long to obtain contact information? And if Wen had the number, why can't she just give it to Mitchell on her own? Why are so many people involved in this simple bit of information relay? And then the lady shows up (actually ladies; she speaks Spanish so her granddaughter translates) and goes through the usual Tangina/Merrin motions, again making me wonder what she did for Reiser and Wen's son since she never even seems to talk to Mikey.
It's also far too little too late, as she shows up with only about 15 minutes to go, thanks to the movie wasting so much time on things that don't ultimately matter. I mean, the film is clearly inspired by the original Poltergeist, right down to the chubby neighbor that our hero doesn't get along with (it's also set in a California suburb), so it'd be like if Carol Anne didn't disappear until an hour or so into the movie and we just spent that entire time watching chairs get stacked or whatever other little things happened in that film before she got snatched. Since I had the place to myself I considered texting friends who had seen it if it even HAD a second act, since nothing was really progressing in a meaningful way, though to be fair the minor scares along the way are at least novel ones. Grandma being menaced by the snake is a pretty good one, as is the genuinely unsettling bit where the neighbor's dog somehow makes his way into their house and attacks the daughter in her sleep. And later, a wolf is seen just stalking around their house, which isn't the sort of thing you usually see in these kinds of movies. It's the rare horror film that keeps you in suspense not from its story or setting, but just from wondering what other random stuff the director will offer in place of more traditional fright-makers.
That director is Greg McLean, with his first theatrical release since Wolf Creek (its sequel and his followup, Rogue, which starred Ms. Mitchell as well, went DTV here in the US). It's obviously much tamer than his other movies, with a PG-13 rating and (spoiler?) a body count of zero, so while I appreciate him branching out his hardcore fans might be disappointed that it's another run of the mill Blumhouse joint, as the studio once again tries to recapture that Insidious magic (Dark Skies and Sinister being previous, superior attempts) by placing an average family in a suburban home and having them face some form of terror. Considering their low-risk budgets (this one was only $4m) and the mostly successful track record at the box office, I'm not sure why they don't take more chances - the Purge sequels and (even though it wasn't very good) Unfriended are the kinds of things I wish they would make more often, high-concept stuff that at least you can remember (good or bad) down the road. It seems like their more interesting movies (like Hush) get sent straight to video, which baffles and saddens me in equal measure.
At any rate, it looks nice and McLean gets good performances across the board, but it's just so aggressively "stock", to borrow a term from the Metallica documentary. The autism angle and even the villain itself (the Anasazi) give it just enough flavor to keep it from being a total loss, and it's better than the Poltergeist remake (yeah, tall order), but I can't help but feel disappointed how formulaic it was, given the pedigree. Maybe the original cut (again, if there was one, though I would place sizable amounts of money that at the very least the final film doesn't 100% resemble the script the actors signed on for - and it's worth noting that the film was shot in 2014) offered more of those brief glimpses of personality and a more fleshed out set of supporting characters, enough to put the movie in the win column, but as is it's just too "eh" to really care one way or the other about it. I'd almost rather it was flat out awful, because then it'd at least be interesting. Instead, all I'll remember a few months from now is that I should have just let myself sit in the darkness for 90 minutes and imagine a better movie (or taken a nap, I mean how often do I get to sleep in a total blackout?).
What say you?