Dark House marks director Victor Salva’s return to rather poorly-rated, supernatural horror thrillers. I did not know what to expect going into it, but had I known that it was (aside from Charles Agron’s input in Dark House) the same writer and director of Jeepers Creepers, I might have been better prepared.
What Salva has created with Dark House is – as far as a cursory analysis goes (all
that’s really necessary for this one) – a truly bizarre piece. House takes the idea of the ‘surprise reveal’ to the extreme, going as far as to change subgenre entirely three quarters of the way through the film. Whether the screenwriters thought they’d really really surprise the audience with the changeup; or realized the film just wasn’t working, doesn’t really matter – it’s a mess best enjoyed under circumstances similar to those while it was being slapped together: drunk. Very, very drunk.
Speed-walking through some seriously cheesy melodrama (that would probably be right at home on Passions),1 the plot begins to unfold. Nick’s mother is crazy, and in fact, Nick’s a little crazy too. He meets his future wife and warns her: “You’re going to hear some bad things about me” – and then proceeds to tell her exactly what those things are. He’s crazy!
I’m not sure what does it – it must have been Tobin Bell’s ridiculous mullet – but Dark House’s evil energies don’t feel evil at all. In fact, they feel magical. The scary voice in the air vents wants us to frolic with the woodsmen in a meadow of spontaneously blooming floral wallpaper, NOT setting ourselves on fire with the high test grain alcohol we chugged down after realizing 75% of this movie could be assembled from the spare parts of any given horror film from the 80’s.
Time advances inexorably through the bad acting, nearly constant orchestral score and its desperate attempt to set the mood, and uninspired cinematography. The altogether useless clairvoyance of Nick’s neither provides necessary plot development nor drama.
Sometimes I talk about a film’s steam that it starts with and loses throughout… this film had none to start with – only broken promises and tainted résumés. Dark House was the first time I’ve seen a bluetooth earpiece as a horror gag, though. I thought that was pretty funny. Sadly, it was the most clever part.
I understand that Nick’s partner Eve being pregnant is for dramatics – it’s all for dramatics – but this film absolutely abuses her. You also know watching it that filmmakers would clearly not kill an unborn child for thrills, so Eve’s drama is negligible. The already extreme physical stress she endures is supposedly more treacherous because her physical state is by definition delicate, but it’s fully inconsequential because of moral imperatives imposed on the creators…. Oh, and because the baby ends up being really important to the mythology of the film or something.
Moving on towards the downright absurd is how the group – who are ostensibly aware of the fact that they are hiding in the very home of the axe murderers who are trying
to kill them – begin at the first opportunity to act completely idiotic. A wall bleeds and they think nothing of it; two people have sex in the same woods a gang of murderers chased them through an hour earlier; Nick’s friend Ryan is able to connect to the internet via cell phone, but not to the cell network. He literally complains that he’s able to surf the web, but not make a phone call. That just isn’t how things work. If you can connect to the internet, you can make a call for help. Not being able to call for help ultimately leads to deaths in Dark House. It is actually a driving plot development. It is inexcusable to think that someone who has witnessed death can’t figure out how to contact the outside world in an emergency through the internet.
In all fairness, there is a certain threshold of idiocy that the players in a scary story cannot exceed without simply ending the story: if everybody in Halloween, for example, just got on a bus and went somewhere else for the weekend, the film would have been a much different thing – perhaps a police procedural. Something that many horror screenwriters seem to lack is the ability to make bad things happen to smart people. The most successful scary stories are not about the downfall of irredeemable idiots, but are about the inescapably horrifying situations that even the smartest person ever would find themselves trapped in. If you don’t believe me, answer this: What’s scarier? Watching a fool who’s not looking where he’s going fall onto a murderer’s axe? Or a Nobel prize-winning physicist be told by a ghost that the demons of hell don’t appreciate hearing that they don’t exist?
As it turns out, however, Dark House takes this bizarre turn about four fifths in. The story begins evoking elements such as illusion, the rise of evil, recursive destiny, and demonic materialization – which actually forgives some of the complaints I have about stupid people in scary movies. It’s not enough, though, because up until an hour and twenty minutes into the film, that’s what was going on – was everybody being really dumb. It’s why I don’t like slasher films, which are driven from start to end by idiocy.
If you end up watching Dark house, you’ll see that the aforementioned gang of axe-murderers run in this really silly, laughable way. They’re hunched down and sort of skip-gallop sideways while dragging their axes on the ground. If I could describe all of Dark House in a single image, it would be that ridiculous hopping stride. Going outside and running around like that until I was arrested might actually be more fun than watching this movie.