After I watched The Darkness last night with my boyfriend, Michael, he asked me what I thought. Answering honestly I said, “Well, it was a little cliché and culturally insensitive, but I expected that. Overall, it was a fun movie.” All of this is true, which raises the question: Why—especially as a horror fan drawn to artsy and unique horror movies, like The Shining and It Follows, and even cult classics like Black Sunday—would I advocate seeing The Darkness? An apt question, to be sure, and one that seems daunting to answer in an essay-style blog entry. After all, I haven’t written for online publication in months; I’ve been simultaneously exploring the realms of literature and online fashion, spattered with a little journaling, but certainly without the added pressure of writing for an audience. So I’m easing back into the writing life with a notorious, and I hope, not too cop-outish – see that word I made up? – top 11 list. (Because, why create a top 10 list when you can create a top 11 list?) Here are 11 reasons why you should see The Darkness, which came out in theaters this Friday, the 13th.
11) Teenagers, but no snarky, bratty teenagers: The movie takes you through the trials of a sometimes turbulent but ultimately likable family. There is a teenage girl in the family, but she’s not the kind of character who you’re rooting against by the end of the movie (see The Gallows or Unfriended). Horror movies are more palatable when the characters are decent human beings, not redundant, despicable stereotypes (translation: assholes). In Unfriended, everyone is sleeping with and deceiving everyone else, and it’s hard to like anyone except the ghost. Mind you, the characters in The Darkness are imperfect, but that’s because they’re well-rounded and human.
10) The obligatory internet search scene: Ahhh, the joys and comforts the online era has brought us. Chief among them, you can google supernatural disturbances that occur in your home or around your spiritually susceptible children, and the wise internet will tell you what spirits lie behind your otherworldly phenomena (and, oddly, in horror films, the internet is always right about the spiritual world). As is the case with numerous contemporary horror films, the parents in this horror movie garner at least some of their information from clumsy, tacky websites and YouTube videos – an important and appreciable horror movie motif—and the websites turn out to be spot on!
9) It’s Kevin Bacon: Do I need to say anything else? Some horror movies are more known for their acclaimed cast lists than others. More typically, a contemporary horror flick will garner one well-known actor, like Ethan Hawke in Sinister. And The Darkness features Kevin Bacon! Now you have one more link in your Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon chain (unfortunately with no concomitant dancing). While this movie may not be the role of his lifetime, he’s certainly an apt contributor to an interesting, if slightly cliché film.
8) Mocking Cultural Insensitivity: Another (sometimes troubling) horror movie trope is that of the “Non-American” spirit. In this country, we love to take other cultures’ beliefs and religions and manipulate them, creating insidious rituals and evil beings that derive from “those” weird religions “across the pond,” or, in this case, native to this continent’s indigenous inhabitants. While I’ve treated this pattern with more careful criticism in previous writing, it is at least mildly amusing to see what maleficent beings we can concoct from superficial, inaccurate knowledge of other cultures.
7) Low Scare Factor: This is a movie made for the non-horror aficionado, which was especially surprising because it’s produced by Blumehouse, a franchise known for its high-intensity, frequent jump scares and disturbing material. Now, I don’t mind the gore, and I enjoy being startled, or I wouldn’t watch these films, but it’s certainly more relaxing to watch a movie that has a supernatural bent and doesn’t rely on scaring the shit out of you. I wouldn’t recommend the film for people who abhor the genre, but people who like horror but scare easily might be able to stomach this one.
6) It’s a quazi-haunted house movie: More accurately, this film is a movie in which characters realize “there’s something in the house,” not unlike the canonical Poltergeist, as opposed to films in which the edifice itself is haunted (a fine but important distinction.) And hey, there’s nothing like watching a family come together to aggressively chase evil from their home — in this case, heavily cloaked demons with black, sooty handprints.
5) Medium Power!: I’m firmly convinced that the spiritual medium motif in horror began with the original Poltergeist, when the eccentric medium enters a grieving family’s household to try to re-capture their youngest daughter from the unforgiving tendrils of a hostile spiritual realm. Personally, I love horror movie mediums and spirit squads for their diverse and eclectic presentation (my favorite is the spiritual medium in Insidious). The medium-duo in this film consists of an older Hispanic woman who speaks only Spanish, and her younger relative (niece, daughter?) who bravely faces the spiritual world while also translating the older medium’s phrases to English. (Why do so many films, like the Paranormal Activity movies and this film, like Hispanic mediums? That question could probably yield a second blog post). Certainly, the two mediums in this film are endearing, altruistic, and fight spirits valiantly, even if they’re not as magnetically idiosyncratic as the spiritualists and psychics in some horror movies.
4) Creepy looking spirits: Again, it’s amusing to note what bizarre, uniquely “Native American” spirits the filmmakers concoct when we’re considering our understanding (or lack thereof) of cultures beyond our own, but these spirits are at least intriguing and creepy, in an odd sort of way. Notably, they don’t make frequent appearances in the film, which relies more on signs of spiritual presence than a physical picture of the spirits (not unlike the take on the demonic in the Paranormal Activity movies). The tendency to veer away from showcasing the physiques of these evil beings is another unique bent to the film, albeit one favored by Hitchcock, who believed that the audience would envision terrors infinitely more bloodcurdling than what he could create on screen.
3) There’s a haunted child: Don’t we all love a haunted child? I thought the earliest case of a child with an unusual link to the spiritual world was Danny in The Shining, but Michael reminded me that we see this trope far earlier, in the 1960’s terrifying classic The Innocence, based off Henry James’s 19th century novella, The Turn of the Screw. Children, in their innocence and hesitance to judge, are appropriately linked to the spiritual world, so much so that it’s become second nature to see this trend in horror films. Interestingly, in this film, the child liked to the spiritual world is an autistic child, a writing move that may lend itself to its own set of problems and criticisms, but was, in any case, a unique take on the child-conduit trope.
2) Surprisingly non-violent: This is a horror movie that doesn’t rely heavily on gore (and is rated PG-13). I have mixed feelings about the overabundance of gore in horror movies. When blood and guts form the base of the scare-factor in a film, I wonder how hard the writers are really trying. Perhaps the way Eli Roth delves into dismembering human bodies is artistic in its own right, but some of my favorite horror relies little, if at all, on grossing the viewer out. I appreciated that this movie attempted to frighten without disgusting its viewers. I’m not opposed to blood – how could I be as a lover of the horror genre – but I always appreciate seeing a filmmaker try to shock and shake us without spilling someone’s intestines.
1) Mixes Drama with Horror: The first time I saw The Babadook – which would have been an exceptional film if not for a disappointing ending – I saw the magic of combining high intensity drama with horror. In The Babadook, the trial of the main character and her son becomes rife with pressure and discomfort, which somersaults into jump scares and horror once we’re already captivated by the film’s emotional intensity. Now, The Babadook combined horror and drama masterfully and artistically. I don’t think The Darkness did so with as much deftness and impeccability, but the effort was certainly there, and the attempt was, at times, very effective. Escalating family troubles and unusual happenings combine to captivate the viewer, a tactic I hope to see more frequently in horror movies.
Phew, that felt like a lot of work. I’ve never really lifted weights, but I imagine that was the literary equivalent of lifting again after you’ve been out with an injury for a few months. I’m a little tired after all that writing. I might have to drink a cup of coffee and shift to a more mind-numbing activity (although I plan on reading Willa Cather’s Death Comes For the Archbishop after this, which is hardly a mindless undertaking). In any case, I’m glad to be back on the blog! Stay tuned for periodic reviews of horror movies – contemporary and classic – along with reviews of stellar horror literature. I’m done teaching for the semester, so I’ll have plenty of time to write. In August I’ll enter a PhD program and may struggle to find pleasure-writing time for the next five years, but I plan on a prolific three months, and hopefully semi-regular posts thereafter! Go see The Darkness, or, if you’ve seen it, tell me what you think in the comments section!