Haunted by her mysterious past, the lone survivor of a family massacre revisits her childhood home on the eve of its destruction, awakening the evil that resides there.
The biggest problem with “Darkness Rising” is nothing.
Before you respond with the appropriate sound of one hand clapping, allow me to explain why “Nothing” by Edie Brickell and New Bohemians kept playing through my head while watching this movie.
The film begins with a segment showing Ted Raimi playing somebody (a dad? Who the hell knows?) playing hide-and-seek with a young girl named Sarah. Ted gets less than 3 minutes screen time and about 30-seconds worth of dialogue. By the time we get to the end of the opening segment, we have a set-up for the movie. After the end of the film, you will realize that the opening delivers nothing. I can’t qualify that statement without spoiling the movie. Not that there is much to spoil.
Next, we see our trio of stereotypically generic younger folks attempting to gain entrance to a house marked for demolition the next day. Apparently, Madison’s mother killed her sister and tried to kill Madison before the mother died. She wants closure, but no one can open the door. While Izzy, Madison’s cousin, and Jake, Madison’s fiancé, argue, the front door opens without assistance for Madison. Most peculiar, but what does she tell the others? Nothing.
Once in the house, they instantly head in different directions. But it seems as if every time Jake turns his head, Madison is seeing something horrifying, weird, or CGI that makes her shriek, scream, or just plain freak out. Yet, when either Jake or Izzy ask what is wrong, Madison responds with – wait for it – “Nothing.”
I get that sometimes you have to rig the plot in your favor to keep the suspense building. That’s fine. “Darkness Rising” abuses that device so often that screaming, “Oh, come ON!” at your TV becomes a mantra. You could almost excuse it by just writing off Madison as a ditz or hoping she is purposely messing with the feeble minds of the other two characters, but after things start going horribly, tragically wrong, Madison has multiple scenes in which she wails that the whole thing is her fault. You’re damned right about that, young lady! One word when that door opened on its own, and this expedition would have ended instantly.
Let me toss out this suggestion: How about taking those lame devices and turning them around? Say Madison tells the others that the door opened on its own. Her fiancé, who is also her mental health therapist (awkward), could claim she is using the story as an excuse to avoid dealing with her past. Suddenly, we have a framework upon which to build stronger characters and better focused interactions. Some of her later hesitation to admit something weird happened could be explained as her unwillingness to be disbelieved again, which provides her character better motivation to resolve the situation as she can see the danger, but the others refuse to acknowledge it.
Don’t expect much brain activity from the story you are ultimately handed.
“Darkness Rising” also gifts its viewers with performances that are underwhelming. Tara Holt as Madison just never seems to take off in what could have been a wonderfully varied role if somebody could have resisted the decision to turn Madison into a whiny pain in the ass. Bryce Johnson plays Jake in such a hollow fashion that ANY reaction his character has seems extreme. About the only person who makes any real effort is Katrina Law as Izzy, but even she seems to have scenes in which she just doesn’t even try. The sad thing is that all three of them have decent acting credits to their names. So, do we blame the director, or was the whole thing made as a demo for the special effects team and the performances are just icing on the cake?
You will find yourself very tired of seeing CGI blood, eyeless stuffed animals, close-ups of growling dogs, and the characters flail about in a bid to provide the simulation of action as well as padding to stretch the film’s runtime. You get the perfunctory twitching, jerky figure that simply EVERY horror movie has to have these days (Yes, “It”, I am looking at you!). You can count the continuity errors (check out the yellow Caution tape that disappears and re-appears on the front porch).
Let’s not forget the ending that ultimately gives you what you started with – nothing. I don’t mean that it is “ambiguous” as some people have attempted to defend it. If they had even just given a solid hint without a full reveal, the ending would have been acceptable. Maybe they didn’t have a budget for a real ending.
“Darkness Rising” just does not justify its existence. It brings nothing new or different to the table, and it doesn’t soften that disappointment by providing solid performances from the cast or stunning visuals. Here is hoping everyone connected with it will move on to better projects in the future.