• Darkness, The

    Released by: Universal
    Released on: September 6, 2016
    Directed by: Greg McLean
    Cast: Kevin Bacon, Radha Mitchell, David Mazouz, Lucy Fry, Matt Walsh, Jennifer Morrison, Parker Mack, Ming-Na Wen, Paul Reiser, Tara Lynn Barr, Kristie Marie Yu, Ilza Rosario
    Year: 2016
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    The Movie:

    Peter (Kevin Bacon) and Bronny (Radha Mitchell) Taylor take their kids, teenage daughter Stephanie (Lucy Fry) and part-time autistic son Mikey (David Mazouz, somehow giving a performance even worse than his Bruce Wayne on Fox’s Gotham) on vacation to the Grand Canyon (or, rather, a southern California stand-in). There, Mikey falls into a cave (no, not the bat-cave, either), where he finds weird rocks, which he collects and places in his bag.

    Back in Plot-Hole, California… um, Los Angeles… weird things start to happen in the Taylors’ home. Mikey gets sooty handprints on his sister’s bedspread, and there are troubling sounds in the attic. Mikey also has an imaginary friend named Jenny, whom he conveniently blames for all these bad things. Meanwhile, Bronny witnesses her daughter throwing up into a plastic container, which the girl then places under her bed with all the other plastic containers of puke she’s collected (something her parents can smell but, up until now, haven’t been good enough parents to investigate). Just your everyday normal kid behavior, right? Wrong! In removing the rocks from their previous position, Mikey has freed some terrible demons, once worshiped by the Anasazi, from their longtime Lovecraftian prison. Of course, it takes Mom getting on the Internet to find this out, while, weirdly, Dad discovers the same website from work. Now all they have to do is convince themselves that they really are under assault from the supernatural, find help, and rid themselves of their malevolent pests.

    To be honest, it’s kind of difficult to describe just how bad The Darkness is. Not boring bad… funny bad! Hysterically funny bad! At times, it feels as if Cloud Ten had its hands in the production, given the film's reactionary religious outlook. The only thing that could have made its world bent more obvious would have been replacing Kevin Bacon with Kirk Cameron.

    Here’s what we learn by watching the film: When it comes to the supernatural, women are intuitive while men are close-minded and condescending; wives who are cold fish and the husbands who have extramarital affairs because of it are punished by demonic infestation; autistic kids are particularly susceptible to spirit possession; Native Americans worship evil spirits; magical Asians have the foresight to find answers to the supernatural; and magical Hispanics have the power to deal with it. At one point, we’re even told that Bibles were removed from hotel rooms because they offended people… and look where our family is now as a result! When Peter admits to being an atheist, he’s told he needs to believe in something. And if you don’t, well, demons’ll get ya if ya don’t watch out!

    Man, that’s a lot of stupid wrapped up in a 90-minute narrative, but don’t despair! While the film plows through this morass of 18th century ignorance with the speed of a modern streamroller, throwing out every ridiculous stereotype it can muster along the way, there are so many laugh-out-loud moments that you begin to wonder whether it was all intentional. And then you realize, “No way did someone plan this kind of funny.” It’s a good thing, too, because without the humor, The Darkness would have… nothing. Not even good performances from usually reliable stalwarts. No wonder it’s currently sitting at a record low (as far as this reviewer has ever seen) of 4% on Rotten Tomatoes. Place all this in the context of director Greg McLean’s claim that the film is based on a true story he heard personally (because if there’s one thing you can believe, it’s second-hand stories; have you heard the one about Richard Gere and a gerbil? I heard it from a friend who heard it from the nurse who witnessed it. True story!), and you have a real winner on your hands.


    The Darkness comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Universal via 1080p with an MPEG-4 AVC encode. The aspect ratio replicates the film’s brief theatrical release at 2.39:1. The film opens in the environs of the Grand Canyon (most of the film was actually shot in and around Los Angeles, however), and the rocky, colorful layers of deposition are striking in full HD, with every grain of sand, pebble, and stony indentation standing out against its surroundings. Once the film moves to a middle-class neighborhood in Los Angeles, it remains sharp but never quite matches the opening title shot. Colors are strong throughout, however, and it seems clear that no serious use of desaturation software has toned down the realistic look of the film, which is a plus in a day and age when horror films tend to look stone-cold blue, baby-shit brown, or mustard yellow. Black levels are nice, and shadow detail is good. There’s no crush, and given that this was shot in a hi-def digital format (on the Arri Alexa Plus), there’s no problem with overblown grain. In fact, just the opposite; a bit more grain could have been added to give it a more film-like appearance. Because it wasn’t shot on film, there’s no problem with dirt and debris, scratches, or print damage of any kind. In short, the film almost looks too perfect (minus a really high detail level).

    The film’s primary track is recorded in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, which is to be expected of a film this recent. As with the video quality, there are no serious negatives to report. The film has a very pleasing arrangement of sounds dispersed across various speakers. This is, after all, a horror film with plenty of false and ‘genuine’ (meaning: not false) scares, and sound is used to relatively good effect. Dialogue is nice and clear, and the occasional booms are jolting, as they should be. The Blu-ray also offers Spanish and French soundtracks in DTS 5.1 These are slightly less robust than the fuller English track. There are English subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired, as well as French and Spanish subtitles.

    There are a couple of notable extras. The most important of these is an alternate ending, which lasts approximately nine minutes and is also presented in HD—and yes, it’s a MUST-WATCH! It takes some footage from earlier in the theatrical cut and mixes it differently leading to one of the funniest shock endings in movie history. In fact, the director should have used it for the theatrical cut, given what comedy gold it is. The other extra is a collection of deleted scenes. All told, these amount to just shy of 10 minutes. There are 9 scenes in all, and these can be watched either one by one or all at once. Some of them are pointless while others are funny, but all of them are brief enough that they’re never boring.

    The film is relatively short, clocking in at approximately 90 minutes, while the extras amount to about 20 minutes. Universal has utilized a BD50 to house everything, resulting in plenty of room and no compression issues.

    The Final Word:

    The Darkness is a rarity: a modern film so bad that, like the days of old when Ed D. Wood, Jr. was at his peak, it offers one unintentional laugh after another. You won’t be scared, but if horror-comedy is your thing, this film just might be for you. The image is solid if not quite a knockout, while the sound is extraordinary. Extras are nice and offer a few additional laughs to those so oriented.

    Christopher Workman is a freelance writer, film critic, and co-author (with Troy Howarth) of the Tome of Terror horror film review series. Horror Films of the 1930s is currently available, with Horror Films of the Silent Era due out later this year.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 6 Comments
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      DYING over here. This sound terribleific.
    1. C.D. Workman's Avatar
      C.D. Workman -
      IT IS! I laughed out loud several times, especially during the climax of the original ending!The film is completely a "What the fuck?" movie.
    1. C.D. Workman's Avatar
      C.D. Workman -
      Ian, I love that you used a screen cap from the film suggesting that children with mental disabilities are probably possessed!
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      I think Paul Reiser should flip up his collar like in ALIENS.
    1. C.D. Workman's Avatar
      C.D. Workman -
      Paul Reiser is cool, you fool.(Oy, I've been possessed by Horamce!)
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      Be careful.