Judge Mitchell Hattaway thinks that this movie would have been better if he had taken its title literally—and left his television turned off.
One of the living for one of the dead.
Here's the good news: The director of Ginger Snaps is back with another horror flick.
The remainder of this review will consist of the bad news.
Facts of the Case
James (Sean Bean, Equilibrium) moves to the Isle of Man, leaving his wife and daughter behind. Several months later, Adele (Mario Bello, Coyote Ugly) and Sarah (Sophia Stuckey) pack up and head off to the family's new house. Sarah wanders off one day and disappears into the raging waters off the coast of the island. Adele is driven mad with grief. One day a young girl named Ebrill (Abigail Stone), who bears a striking resemblance to Sarah, appears in the house. Ebrill says she knows where Sarah is, which sends Adele on a desperate journey to recover her daughter.
This is one damned dull movie. How dull is it? It's so dull that about ten minutes in (the point at which I realized absolutely nothing was going to happen) I desperately started trying to find another way to entertain myself. Luckily, one of the characters said something that reminded me of a line from "Stairway to Heaven," so I started running the song through my head. I then started thinking about that deleted scene on the Almost Famous: Bootleg Cut DVD. You know the one I mean? In case you don't, let me describe it (trust me, I'm going somewhere with this.) Patrick Fugit, one of his friends, and a couple of women from Fugit's high school are trying to convince Frances McDormand to let Fugit go on the road as a correspondent for Rolling Stone. They put a copy of Led Zeppelin's untitled fourth album on the turntable and play "Stairway to Heaven." As they listen to the song, Fugit explains to McDormand, who doesn't want her son mixed up in the decadent world of rock music, how Zeppelin's opus was influenced by the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. The song doesn't actually play during the scene (the band reportedly wanted too much money, although I think Robert Plant's still smarting over the whole "golden god" thing), so onscreen text informs the viewer exactly when to cue up his/her own copy of the song. It's a wonderful scene, one which was unfortunately cut down to just a few seconds of McDormand and Fugit talking in the final cut, and thinking about it kept me entertained for another ten minutes or so. I then started paying attention to The Dark again, but I quickly lost interest. Then I caught sight of some sheep on the screen. This made me think of Pink Floyd's Animals. I love that album, so I started running the whole thing through my mind. This ate up another forty minutes, after which I once again started paying attention to the movie. I quickly lost interest again, but then I caught sight of a sopping wet Mario Bello. I suddenly became interested again. (Hey, I only said I was going somewhere with this. I never said it would be worth the trip.)
Now that I've explained just how dull it is, I don't know what else to say about The Dark, other than you know you're in trouble when the only marginally scary scene in a horror movie involves a flock of stampeding sheep. No, seriously. There's a scene in which several sheep go crazy, run around in a circle, and then tumble over a cliff. Man, that's some spooky stuff. (A later scene features several more sheep giving Bello the evil eye while bleating ominously, but these sheep are corralled, and corralled sheep simply aren't as scary as free-roaming ones.) Other than that, pretty much nothing of note nothing happens. It takes almost half an hour for the daughter to disappear, which is followed by thirty minutes of Bello moping about while Bean tells her to get over it, which is followed by twenty minutes of Bello wandering around trying to find her daughter. This is topped off by ten minutes of completely incomprehensible nonsense (I couldn't figure out what the hell was going on during the climax), and then the credits roll. Exciting, huh?
This movie is based on Sheep, a novel by Simon Maginn. I haven't read this novel, but I have read a detailed summary of its plot, and I can safely say (but don't quote me on this) that Mr. Maginn is in no way responsible for the inane story presented in the movie. The novel, from what I can glean, is as much a meditation on the loss of a child as it is a horror tale. The movie, on the other hand, is little more than a rip off of Pet Sematary and The Ring (or, if you prefer, Ringu). (I get the feeling that what happened to Maginn's novel is similar to what happened to Peter Straub's Ghost Story: a complex, involving horror novel was stripped down, simplified, and altered during its translation to film.) So, who is responsible for this movie's failings? Director John Fawcett and screenwriter Stephen Massicotte, that's who. Rather than worrying about character and plot, Fawcett and Massicotte take the lazy route and give us the same old stupid dream sequences, loud noises, characters bumping into one another, and other false scares we've all seen a thousand times before. And they leave several questions unanswered. For example, exactly what is up with James and Adele's relationship? Are they on the road to estrangement? They're married, and when they are reunited she tells him how much she's missed him, but they don't appear affectionate, nor do they share a bed. Is there something to this, or is this just a way of setting up the artificial conflict in the movie's second act? (The reason why James left his wife and daughter behind for several months is also a little unclear.) Speaking of James, how the hell does he not know that his house sits twenty feet away from the spot where a bunch of religious fanatics ended their lives by diving off a cliff into the drink? And why the hell does James's handyman, one of those wise old coots always featured in this type of story (Fred Gwynne, anyone?), not divulge his knowledge of what's going on until the last twenty minutes or so? Better yet, why don't Bean and Bello kick the wise old coot's ass for not divulging his knowledge earlier? Lapses in logic wouldn't be a problem if the movie managed to be tense, scary, or engaging, but it is none of these things.
One last thing: even if the rest of the movie worked, Sophia Stuckey's performance would almost be enough to sink it. Sure, she's young, and maybe her craft will improve over time, but her work here is simply awful. So awful, in fact, I was actually overjoyed to see her character vanish. It's bad enough that the character is an annoying little twit, but Stuckey's performance simply makes things that much worse. (For the record, Bello is very good, and Bean, who is given little more to do than stand around and pitch the occasional hissy fit, does what he can with what is essentially a thankless role.)
Oh, I almost forgot about the technical stuff. Both the video and audio are first-rate. The movie wavers between extremely dark and extremely bright scenes, and both are represented very well. There's a hint of grain here and there, but it's nothing to cry about. The 5.1 track is very atmospheric and immersive. The entire soundstage is put to excellent use, and there's an abundance of deep, tight bass activity; all of those loud, booming noises don't serve any real purpose, but they sure do sound nice. Extras include a few previews for other Sony releases, as well as an alternate ending. This ending is a bit bleaker than the one found in the film itself, and it somehow manages to be even more nonsensical.
Is anybody else in the mood for some mutton?
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Scales of Justice
• Alternate Ending
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