'Darkness Rising': Film Review

Courtesy of IFC Midnight
As generic as its title.

A young woman returns to the house where she experienced childhood trauma in Austin Reading's horror film.

Imagine that when you were a child your mother murdered your sister and tried to kill you as well. Cut to decades later, when the house in which these horrors took place is about to be torn down. Naturally, the first thing you’ll want to do is take one last look around the place for old time’s sake.

Sounds implausible, right? But not in the world of horror films in which characters make so many boneheaded, life-threatening decisions that yelling at the screen has become a cherished communal experience among moviegoers. The latest example, Austin Reading’s Darkness Rising, would be infuriating except that its terminal dullness saps the energy required for outrage. This is a low-budget horror film so generic you’ll forget everything about it, including its title, just hours after watching it.

For the record, the story concerns the now-grown Madison (Katrina Law), who brings along her hapless fiancé Jake (Bryce Johnson) and younger cousin Izzy (Tara Holt) to the house of horrors where the gruesome events occurred. Despite the passage of so many years, the house proves to be remarkably well-preserved, with all of the family’s possessions just as they left them. It clearly sits in a neighborhood remarkably devoid of squatters, vandals or thieves.

Moviegoers will earn no points for guessing that things soon start to go bump in the night. The group find themselves trapped in the house and suffering the same sort of demonic possession — signified by the wearing of ill-fitting contact lenses — that apparently afflicted Madison’s mother. Calling 911 proves no help, as the operator turns out to be more menacing than helpful (admittedly, one of the film’s few realistic touches). Eventually a spooky young boy begins appearing, played by a kid who looks like he happened to be visiting the set that day.

While the proceedings are murky both visually and narratively — the film might just as well have been made in black and white, considering its drab visual palette — the screenplay thoughtfully attempts to spell out exactly what’s going on.

“That’s what this place does,” one character explains. “It takes things from our minds and uses it against us.”

Glad that’s cleared up. In any case, it proves difficult to care about these clueless characters, especially Jake, who tries to make nice with a dog that makes Cujo look like a Disney cartoon puppy. To be fair, he does display an unexpected facility for tying people up, which, in one of the screenplay’s sole clever touches, he explains he learned by watching episodes of Dexter.

By the time the movie — What was that title again? Oh yes, Darkness Rising — reaches its conclusion, you will have learned the lessons that you can’t go home again and that there are far too many mediocre indie horror films littering theaters and VOD listings.

Production companies: Storyboard Entertainment, Compass Entertainment, Bump in the Night, Liquid Theory
Distributor: IFC Midnight
Cast: Tara Holt, Bryce Johnson, Katrina Law, Heather Mazur, Ted Raimi, Myk Watford, Christian Ganiere
Director: Austin Reading
Screenwriter: Vikram Weet
Producers: Daniel Hyman, Jason Potash, Paul Finkel, Marcus Dean Fuller, Julie S. Fuller
Executive producers: Sebastian Barleben, Johnny Lee
Director of photography: Dominika Posseren
Production designer: Mark C. Davis
Costume designer: Susan Doepner-Senac

Music: Thomas Gable
Editor: Robert Bramwell
Casting: Janelle Scuderi

81 minutes