J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Darkness Rising: There’s No Place Like Home (Thankfully)

Surely, everyone has heard deaths come in three’s. Or perhaps you assumed things naturally came in four’s, like the Beatles and the Seinfeld cast. However, for some shadowy occult presence, it is all about five’s in Austin Reading’s Darkness Rising (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

We will have to piece together the full story over the course of the film, but it is pretty clear from the start Madison just barely survived a family massacre. Initially, it was her mother doing the killing, but her father was apparently institutionalized afterward, forcing her to live with her cousin Izzy for the rest of her formative years. The notorious house where it all went down is scheduled to be demolished so Madison convinces her fiancé Jake and Izzy to accompany her on a late-night salvage mission and trip down memory lane. Yes, that sounds like a lovely outing, doesn’t it? Especially considering how odd she has been acting lately, obsessing over the tally symbol for the number five.

It turns out all her family’s stuff is still there where they left it (any old LPs in there?). Of course, so is the evil entity or entities that drove her mother to madness. To their limit credit, the trio quickly decide it was a really bad idea to come. Unfortunately, whatever it is, won’t let them leave.

In terms of mechanics, Darkness Rising is a surprisingly eerie and claustrophobic haunted-all-the-way-to-Hell-and-back house horror film. Regrettably, it is marred by some spectacularly bad decision-making from its main characters. There’s not a lot of head’s-up play in Darkness. The wrap-around segments also make no sense in the context of the overall film, but they give us a chance to play hide-and-seek with cult favorite Ted Raimi, so, so be it.

Tara Holt, Bryce Johnson, and Katrina Law are all sufficiently credible as Madison and company. Christian Ganiere is also all kinds of creepy as a mystery child whose spectral presence will sort of be explained in due time. However, Darkness is defined more by its horror mise-en-scene than anything its cast can bring to it. The old shunned house and the abandoned bric-a-brac are indeed quite spooky.

Thematically, Vikram Weet’s screenplay bears some comparison to Darren Lynn Bousman’s Abattoir, but it is more narrowly focused (and less ambitious). Regardless, Reading keeps the tension ratcheted up and strikes some archetypal chords. It will not be remembered as a genre milestone, but for horror fans it serves up some nourishing red meat. Recommended accordingly, Darkness Rising opens this Friday (6/30) in New York, at the IFC Center.

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