Get local news delivered straight to your phone

We can't make City Paper without you

$
$
$

Your contribution is appreciated.

Conservatives may not be winning the culture war, but you wouldn’t know it from the recent spate of bloodless, PG-13 horror films. The tame Darkness, part of the genre’s current haunted-house trend—see also: The Glass House, The Grudge, and this week’s White Noise—is no exception. (Exceptions, it seems, are granted only to horror films about the Christ.) When an American nuclear family moves into an isolated abode outside a rainy Spanish city—surprise!—strange events begin to occur: Lights flicker. Shadows creep. A broken toy starts working again. The father, Mark (Iain Glen), has “an attack” in traffic. The daughter, Regina (Anna Paquin), notices that her brother, Paul (Stephan Enquist)—the film’s obligatory spooky kid—has been drawing pictures of other spooky kids. “These things happen,” clueless mother Maria (Lena Olin) posits. Yes, these things do indeed happen—and have been happening since at least, say, Robert Wise’s 1963 ghost flick, The Haunting. Spanish director Jaume Balagueró, who co-wrote Darkness’ screenplay with newcomer Fernando de Felipe and Revenge of the Nerds (!) vet Miguel Tejada-Flores, lends the proceedings a pronounced mid-’80s-MTV aesthetic: He overloads his set pieces with housewide happenings, all linked via quick-fadeout edits. The cumulative effect is stylish, though not particularly suspenseful. The script is no help, either, leaving the capable cast with very little to work to with. Glen, for example, is tasked with a sanity meltdown à la Jack Nicholson in The Shining, yet his character is never convincingly off-the-hook: “Open the freakin’ door!” he screams at one point. And the frequently wet Paquin—who, you might remember, won an Oscar for her performance in 1993’s The Piano—is provided with nothing more to do than wander lost-looking and strappy-shirted from one dimly lit scene to another. On the not-so-tame side, the film takes a dim view of the traditional family unit in general and patriarchy in particular. And its abrupt and slightly disorienting ending requires a little heavy lifting from the audience—a welcome rarity these days. Even so, this is not a modern horror movie in spirit: The décor may be up-to-date, but it’s just cloaking the same old dark house. —Brent Burton