The Disappointing Darkness!
The Taylor family is on vacation at the Grand Canyon, camping with another family they are friends with. The adults yuck it up while the kids go exploring. Michael (David Mazouz) is the youngest and has autism. He falls through a path into a hidden cavern. There he discovers stones with rune-type inscriptions, splayed in a certain pattern on a rock. Fascinated, he takes them, and of course doing so brings down the ugly power of ancient Indian spirits on his family. No one knows about it, though, and when the family returns home, strange things start happening. The family itself is a normal, upper-middle class group, father Peter (Kevin Bacon) works long hours at his job and is tempted to cheat on his wife, Bronny (Radha Mitchell), who has a problem with alcohol. And their daughter Stephanie (Lucy Fry) is secretly fighting with an eating disorder. So the family looks normal on the surface, but they’re all in turmoil underneath. The evil spirits prey on these weaknesses and as time passes, the family begins to turn on each other, until Bronny figures out, through intense internet research, that they have been cursed and these spirits will take their son Michael away. They employ a Hispanic mother and daughter shaman duo to help them defeat the evil. Can they save their son Michael before he is whisked away into another dimension by these haunting spirits?
So, yeah. This movie is one of the most paint-by-the-numbers things I’ve ever seen. Every single modern trope is hit here, and while the family are interesting characters to follow and care for, and the acting is really good, it’s the story that drags this movie down. We’ve seen this a hundred times. It’s effectively another Poltergeist remake: dead Indian spirits are haunting a family and an expert must be brought in to save the day. Like I said, the family conflict and drama is actually compelling, but interspersed with faucets suddenly turning on, apparitions appearing behind characters and then disappearing, appliances acting wacky, and random hallucinations, the drama loses its flavor. And is it really exciting to watch a character type in search questions on a computer and discover all the answers to what’s plaguing their family? How many times has this been done? By the end, we’re left with the white family huddled together and screaming, while the Hispanics use their folk magic to try and save their lives. It’s insulting and a wee bit racist. That being said, I don’t think they were setting out to do this to be offensive, I think they were just repeating stories from movies past, and didn’t even think about the implications. Hell, that last La Llorona flick did practically the same thing.
Twenty years ago, this film would have felt fresh and been a big smash, but now, it’s just the same, tired old crap we’ve seen dozens of times, only lacquered with big-name actors and CGI effects. This isn’t a terrible movie by any means, but it is dreadfully boring and pretty unengaging once the horror starts. I suppose this would work as an entry-level film for teens, but again, that strain of bigotry really disqualifies it. I don’t want to be harsh, because director Greg McLean has made some great horror films, and his work here is done well, he’s just not given a lot to work with. The acting is good, the directing is good, the look of the film is good, but the story is a big letdown. It’s streaming on Netflix right now, if you want to give it a shot. I’d give it two stars, but that bit with the brown-skinned people saving the whites really sticks in my craw.