Film Review: Darkness Rising

Generic haunted-house story will have trouble standing out from a crowded summer theatrical environment.
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Maddie (Tara Holt) has spent years running from a spectacularly awful childhood defined by her insane mother's bloody attempt to kill both her children. But with the long-abandoned family home slated for demolition, Maddie is inexplicably drawn to the place and persuades her boyfriend, Jake (Bryce Johnson), and cousin/best friend, Izzy (Katrina Law)—whose family raised Maddie—to join her in a late-night trip down bad-memory lane.

The house is in strangely good condition, inside and out—aside from some graffiti on the outside it looks like a solid day's cleaning would have it in open-house-ready shape. Even Maddie's mom's cool leather jacket is in such pristine condition that self-appointed bad-ass Izzy promptly slips it on. Which probably wasn't a good idea, though it's hard to tell how much the jacket does or doesn't mean when the generic creepiness commences.

Lights go on and off, cellphones channel messages from the scary-voice zone, a snarling demon dog appears outside and blocks access to the car, blood oozes from walls and spooky baby-doll eyes, forays are made to deserted rooms and the obligatory scary basement, and crashing noises from whatever part of the house the trio isn't in lead to repeated exclamations of "What was that?!?"

Ultimately, the trouble with Darkness Rising isn't that so much it's generic—Robert Wise's The Haunting (1963) is a classic that works with the same basic notes—as that the characters are so undefined that it's impossible to care what happens to them beyond wishing that they'd stop screaming. It's hard to blame the actors when they have so little to work with—Maddie is high-strung, Jake is nice, Izzy is brash—but they're the main event. There just isn't much else going on, other than a pointless wraparound sequence that viewers will almost certainly have forgotten before the film's tail-end and some third-act mythology dialogue that actually hints at The Haunting's underlying story without an ounce of that film's subtlety. Darkness Rising is unlikely to spend much time in theatres, given the competition from franchise tentpoles and the fact that it doesn't offer diehard horror fans anything they haven't seen before.

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