I remember reading the original magazine article back in 2006 that coined the term “splat pack” to describe a group of emerging horror filmmakers whose work was taking the genre back in a more hard-core direction after the self-aware, post-Scream boom of comedic slashers in the late 90s/early 2000s. The members included directors who went on to great success (James Wan), moved on from horror (Neil Marshall) or stuck with it for better and worse; Rob Zombie, Eli Roth, Alexandre Aja, and Greg McLean.
Of the group, McLean seems to be the one who’s had the least luck. After breaking through with his chilling outback horror Wolf Creek he made the decent but underseen giant crocodile movie Rogue, then nothing until 2013 with Wolf Creek 2, a sequel that went in a misplaced comedic direction and ended up going straight to DVD in many territories (as had Rogue). Low budget horror producer extraordinaire Jason Blum may be the man to bring McLean to the mainstream in 2016 though, as they’ve teamed up for the unimaginatively titled The Darkness, an LA-set horror that marks McLean’s first US production.
The film stars Kevin Bacon and Rogue star Radha Mitchell as parents of a stroppy teenage girl and autistic son. After a trip to the Grand Canyon from which their son has, unbeknownst to them, brought back some stones with mysterious symbols on, various creepy goings on begin to occur in their house. These range from taps turning themselves on to the sudden appearance of a rattlesnake, but they’re accompanied by odd behaviour displayed by the boy Michael, who barely speaks, much to the parents’ concern.
McLean has a number of opportunities to generate some scares within the spooky household events but unfortunately fails to really deliver any. The family already has their fair share of problems with drinking, affairs and the daughter having a secret eating disorder, and there are a few scenes in the film that more resemble something from some tedious, unimaginative domestic drama than a supernatural horror movie. Combining the two genres could have been an interesting move but here it doesn’t even feel like any effort was put into either.
As things get worse for them, investigations lead them to believe this may be related to some Native American demonic mythology or something, but the film’s primary method of illustrating that is via the appearance of blackened hand prints everywhere that just don’t prove to be effectively frightening imagery. This builds to a finale that resembles a number of religious/exorcism-themed horror movies and aside from the, sadly superficial use of a lesser-known mythology, it brings nothing new to this familiar troupe.
The surprisingly starry cast for a low-budget movie don’t embarrass themselves but don’t manage to bring any real emotion to the family’s struggles either. The Darkness is huge disappointment of a horror movie that fails in almost every conceivable way, it’s not scary, it’s not interesting, and there are large stretches where very little happens and it just becomes a bore to sit through. What looked like it could have been a comeback movie for Greg McLean unfortunately proves to be anything but.