OutOfTheDarkOut of the Dark is a useful reminder that resumes are not always accurate predictors of success in the movie business. How often do we see the phrases “From the Producers of” or “By the Director of” or the even vaguer “The Team That Brought You” splashed across the promotional material, only to find that the new film is nothing like its purported antecedents? Here, we have a collaboration of writers whose recent projects include fan favorites like Enemy and The Last Days. With such credits, viewers could reasonably expect, at the very least, a competent, workmanlike ghost story, while holding out hope for a new take on the familiar haunted house flick. Instead, screenwriters Javier Gullón (Enemy) and David and Àlex Pastor (The Last Days) deliver a dog of a script that is banal, derivative and so fraught with third act problems that the onscreen action provoked derisive laughter from the audience at the film’s premiere at the Berlin Fantasy Filmfest.

American Mom Sarah (Julia Stiles) and British Dad Paul (Scott Speedman) with adorable moppet Hannah (Pixie Davies) move to Santa Clara, Colombia; Santa Clara being the South American distributor for bad juju. The big local holiday commemorates the time when the conquistadors locked all the local children in a temple and burned them alive. Sarah is there to be groomed to take over the family business from Dad (Stephen Rea), the local robber baron, um, paper factory owner. Think Claire taking over Jay’s closet business on Modern Family without any of the wit and charm and with the largest imaginable class action suit from the afterworld hanging over everyone’s head.

In the beginning, it is the genuinely cute little kid, Hannah, who drives the action by wandering off – repeatedly. Hannah wanders off in the marketplace. Hannah wanders off in the woods. Hannah wanders off into the abandoned dumbwaiter in her bedroom. Out of the Dark is a lousy horror movie, but a great drinking game. Take a drink every time someone shouts “Hannah” or “Sarah,” and chug whenever someone asks, “Where is my daughter?” You’ll be blitzed well before Sarah knots a rope and begins her descent into the depths of the dumbwaiter.

It’s children terrifying a child to terrify the parents except none of it is terrifying at all. The one fright gag is a loud burst of sound and a quick shot of grotesque semi-spectral kid. Rinse. Repeat. The film simply does not have a horror sensibility to it. In fact, it wastes its assets, including beautiful shooting locations in Colombia, in a half-hearted and half-assed pursuit of the genre’s flash points. First-time feature film director Lluís Quílez shows some flair in the early going with a great shot of a plane cutting across the screen and some nice sweeping shots establishing the family house. Quílez and cinematographer Isaac Vila falter, however, with some key visuals such as reflections and photographic images.

The performances are uneven. Stiles and Rhea display no connection to convince anyone of a father-daughter bond. Pixie Davies is adorable, but that’s a well that the filmmakers draw from far too often in this film. Speedman is passable in a role that calls for him to do little more than run around and scream his wife or daughter’s name.

The movie attempts to put its horror in the context of a social message, with foreign invaders – conquistadors or capitalists – as the real evil, but who cares when the message is being delivered by inarticulate, masked child actors suffering the eternal damnation of awful screenwriting? Maybe the sequel can have the ghosts of the guilty parties performing the Ice Bucket Challenge as their chance for redemption.

One star.

 

 

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