James Gunn, writer and director of Slither, Super, and the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy, once tweeted “Everyone in Hollywood knows, behind every good movie there’s a good screenplay & behind half the bad movies, there’s a good screenplay too.” While this is true, it could also be expanded to include concepts. Behind every good movie lies a good concept, behind most bad movies lies a good concept gone wrong. In Dark House, the latest from director Victor Salva, best know for his “Jeepers Creepers” films, you can feel the good concept hiding behind the action on screen. Unfortunately, it is covered up by bad dialogue, bad performances, bad execution, and just general badness.
The basic synopsis of Dark House plays out with such familiarity that a savvy horror fan will probably be able to predict the basic outcome within the first ten minutes of the film. A troubled youth with a dark gift, which in this case is the ability to see if a person will die violently, inherits a house from his dead mother. A road trip ensues and everything one would assume would happen mostly happens. The one deviation, and where the good concept peeks out his head, is that behind the cookie-cutter setup is a larger theme of good vs. evil that could have been an interesting statement. Instead of challenging assumptions and stereotypes of what classifies something evil versus good, the audience is treated in a visually confused and awkward showdown between two “armies”. One army seems to be made up of townsfolk, the other side-stepping, galloping, hooded axe-men. Cinematically this results in something more comical than climactic.
The other trouble with the wrinkle of our protagonist’s gift is that his premonitions redact all tension of who will live and who will die. Very early on, we know the outcome of this cinematic body count. With that bit of information laid out before the audience, the rest of the narrative just seems empty and plodding. Things happen with no real tension or weigh. Character’s make decisions for the sake of the plot, not because they are people with motivations and emotions.
This being a horror film of this type, there has to be a big baddie. The ultimate villain that hides in the dark. This again, is a moment when you see a concept that was firmly planted in “good idea” territory. They show very little of the villain, if anything at all. Usually this leads to the imagination of the audience taking over and creating something far more menacing than make-up or CGI could ever accomplish. In the case of Dark House, however, you get a monster that lives in the ventilation that has a terribly non-threatening voice. Think of Darth Vader stuck in a vent and you get the general feel of this villain. Again, the result is more unintentionally humorous than anything nearing the realm of scary.
Add all of this up, along with random points of illogic and ridiculous exposition, you get a film that is a challenge to sit through. Not only is most of the plot riddled with nonsense leaps of non-logic but the effect of the protagonist’s gift and the overabundance of exposition leads to a story that never engages and often leaps outside of the reasonable barrier for suspension of disbelief. So, while you can see glints of a good concept here, you are never able to see a good movie come from it. Aggravating, laughable, and just full of bad cinematic execution, Dark House definitely falls into the category of “good concept gone wrong”.