'The Darkness': Film Review

A flat domestic-haunting tale with an ersatz Native American twist.

'Wolf Creek' director Greg McLean heads to the Grand Canyon, finds ghosts.

Are parents in 2016 not sufficiently concerned about autism? In addition to worrying about causes, therapies and social stigma, should they also be fretting over the possibility that their special-needs child might soon bond with destruction-minded beings from another spiritual plane? So claims Greg McLean's The Darkness, a clunker blending haunted-house tropes with hokum about the ancient Anasazi people. The preferred name for that Native American culture these days is Ancestral Puebloans, but Anasazi sounds cooler, and in this case few are likely to complain: Like advocates for those on the autism spectrum, present-day Puebloans would probably prefer not to be associated with the film. Given the short run it's likely to have in theaters before creeping to video obscurity, they shouldn't worry.

Kevin Bacon and Radha Mitchell play Peter and Bronny Taylor, who take their kids Stephanie (Lucy Fry) and Mikey (David Mazouz) to the Grand Canyon on vacation. Unbeknownst to them, Mikey stumbles into a cave adorned with ancient-looking paintings and rocks with symbols carved into them. He sneaks the latter home. Soon, in addition to his autism-related quirks, Mikey is talking to invisible friends. Then playing with fire. Then trying to kill Grandma's cat.

For quite a while, the other supernatural manifestations around the house are remarkably mundane — a lot of kitchen faucets left running, doors left ajar and smudges on bed linens. But Bronny knows something up, so she googles "strange smells" — and finds not advertisements for air freshener but a "history" video about demons who tormented the Anasazi and were imprisoned in sacred stones. She sends Peter an email whose subject line reads, simply, "Important!"

Amid the rarely very creepy buildup to the Amityville-ish showdown to come, the screenplay piles on more unrelated domestic drama than the picture can take: Stephanie's bulimic, Peter is tempted by a young colleague, Bronny is an alcoholic who, by the time all this stuff comes to light, falls off the wagon. Who wouldn't?

The Darkness was not screened in advance for critics, but judging from the reaction at a sparsely attended Times Square matinee, it won't take long for bad buzz to get out. After chuckling at the pic's race-through-that-temporal-vortex finale, one woman marveled to her companion, "I paid 16 dollars for this s—?"


Production companies: Blumhouse, Emu Creek

Distributor: High Top Releasing

Cast: Kevin Bacon, Radha Mitchell, Lucy Fry, David Mazouz, Paul Reiser

Director: Greg Mclean

Screenwriters: Greg Mclean, Shayne Armstrong, Shane Krause

Producers: Jason Blum, Matthew Kaplan, Bianca Martino, Greg Mclean

Executive producers: Jeanette Brill, Robyn Marshall, Couper Samuelson

Director of photography: Toby Oliver

Production designer: Melanie Jones

Costume designer: Nicola Dunn

Editor: Sean Lahiff

Composer: Johnny Klimek

Casting directors: Fabiana Arrastia, Terri Taylor

PG-13, 92 minutes