It must be 30 years now since those aliens delivered the PG-13 Horror Movie Template to the Hollywood studios, and here they are, still getting regular use out of it. Say what you will about liberal, godless Hollywood, at least they’re into recycling.
The latest Template-made product is “The Darkness” (they even used the do-it-yourself title generator!), with Kevin Bacon and Radha Mitchell as Peter and Bronny, parents of an autistic boy, Mikey (David Mazouz), who starts talking to an imaginary friend shortly after the family — which also includes a resentful teenage daughter, Stephanie (Lucy Fry) — visits the Grand Canyon and stumbles across some Indian artifacts. This invisible friend of Mikey’s, called Jenny, lives in the walls of the family’s house and makes strange noises, leaves ominous handprints, drives the neighbor’s dog crazy — your basic haunting, in other words, as described in Section II (a) of the Template.
Bronny (her name is not explained) googles* conveniently helpful articles that perfectly summarize what’s happening, as if the creators of the websites were writing specifically for her. Meanwhile, Peter insists there’s a logical explanation and throws himself into his work. (Like most white-collar men in movies, he’s an architect. A lot of filmmakers look at the Template’s alphabetical list of permissible occupations and just grab the one at the top.)
Eventually, around the prescribed 60-minute mark (see Section III (b) of the Template), Peter sees what Bronny and Stephanie have been seeing and starts taking the threat seriously. Having already checked off “googling” from the Plot Outline, the film now brings in an expert to 1) explain in more detail what’s happening and why, and 2) recite the incantations necessary to send the [blank] back to [blank].
Even at 92 minutes, this formulaic castoff, directed and co-written by Greg McLean (“Wolf Creek”), is mind-numbingly protracted, without a moment of originality. Dead-end tangents like Stephanie’s health problems, Peter’s potential infidelity, and Bronny’s secret alcoholism go nowhere, doing nothing except to pad out the runtime. All “scary” moments are accompanied by a musical sting to let you know you’ve been scared, and the film contains one (1) F-word to let you know it’s not for little kids. The only way the movie works at all is if you’ve never seen a Template movie before, but that’s not likely.
*She does not use Google, of course, as the Template forbids the depiction of real search engines or websites. Bronny instead goes to ewebsearch.com.
D+ (1 hr., 32 min.; )