The Darkness (2014)

*. The Darkness is yet another microbudget Blumhouse ghost story. (Technically it was put out by Blumhouse Tilt, which is their “multiplatform arm,” meaning they use different distribution strategies for these pictuers than a wide theatrical release.) It’s total garbage, and was panned by critics and audiences alike, but still made money. That’s the Blumhouse business model. They can’t really lose. If they get a hit they run off a bunch of sequels. If they strike out, so what?
*. The good thing about such a production is that it lets filmmakers, at least in theory, do their own thing and take chances. In practice, however, it has led to some incredibly formulaic and derivative fare. The Darkness is a movie we’ve seen many times before. Only this time it’s worse.
*. So the Taylors are this upper-middle-class family. Dad Kevin Bacon is an architect, mom Radha Mitchell stays at home. They take a camping trip to the Grand Canyon where their somewhat autistic son picks up a bunch of native ritual stones that contain ancient demons. He brings them home and soon there are strange noises being heard in the attic (the movie never explains why) and other things going bump in the night. Meanwhile, the family is falling apart in other ways because dad is fooling around at work and the daughter is bulimic. Could all this ghosty stuff be karma? Is it somehow their fault?
*. What do the demons want? A YouTube video (really!) tries to explain. Apparently these ancient demons like to steal kids. They are also said to take on the form of a raven, a coyote, a wolf, a snake, and a buffalo. I really, really wanted to see that buffalo. At the end there’s a loud pounding on the front door and I was thinking “Finally! Here’s the big fellow!” But the door was never opened and the buffalo (or bison, to give it the correct name) is never seen.
*. This supernatural intrusion into their beautiful home (the demons first announce themselves as a foul smell, and then leave inky handprints on the walls and sheets) has the effect of bringing the family together, and love conquers all. As the YouTube video tells us: “Ancient writings reveal that this curse can only be lifted by returning the stones to their original resting place, and only by one among them who had no fear.” When I heard that I said “Hm. I don’t have to actually watch the rest of the movie now, do I?” But I did. And that’s how it works out. Unless you go with the “shocking alternate ending” included with the DVD, which is somewhat less inspiring. And I do recommend the alternate ending. It’s hilarious.
*. Well, as I’ve said, it’s total garbage. Basically a rehash of Poltergeist, with no scares, no suspense, and no one to root for. But I’ll flag two things in particular that stuck out for me as particularly stupid.
*. First, there is the autistic son. At least I think he’s supposed to be autistic. Or somewhere on the spectrum. In fact, he doesn’t act like any autistic person I’ve ever seen. Plus, he apparently has this sixth sense that allows him to see what isn’t there, and he doesn’t feel fear. Which is where that YouTube tutorial comes in handy. Because, you know, only someone who doesn’t feel fear can send the demons back. Remember?
*. I’ve written before about how recent movies have gone overboard in presenting autistic people as having super powers. See, for example, my notes on The Accountant. That’s bad enough. But The Darkness goes further in endorsing the quack notion that people with autism can become sensitive conduits for the spirit realm. This is not just stupid but dangerous. Hollywood needs to let autism go. It also doesn’t help that only a couple of minutes after being introduced to Mikey you’re going to be praying for the demons to kill him or just drag him to hell. He’s that annoying.
*. The second point I want to flag is the pair of women that the family bring in to exorcise their house. Since the demons have some connection to the Anasazi people we would expect them to be Native women, but instead they seem to be Hispanic. They don’t speak any Native language, like Navajo, but Spanish. Why would the demons know Spanish? The cliff-dwelling Anasazi were gone centuries before the Spanish arrived. They might as well be chanting their curses in Armenian.
*. In part what’s going on here is just the insistence that these antique spirits are part of a far earlier dispensation than any European God. God, as is usually the case in such movies, is missing. That point is made when the Taylors check into a hotel and can’t find a Bible. Or, as the younger exorcism specialist puts it when dad asks her if her mother will be needing her fancy cross: “She’s sensing older things at work here. And the God you might be familiar with cannot help you now.” Bummer. First the Gideons get taken away and now this shit.
*. More than that, however, this ancient-spirit business is just another example of the tired idea that ethnic people have some primitive link to supernatural forces that white-bread Americans don’t understand. Which is another idea Hollywood should retire.
*. I feel bad enough that I wasted my time watching The Darkness, I’m not going to waste any more time writing about it. Movie, be gone!

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