Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Dark House (2009)

Generic title #54,732: "Dark Review"

Fourteen years ago a young girl leaves her two friends outside the gate while she bravely struts her proud self into the Darrode house for foster children. Instead of being able to go back outside to call her friends chicken, she finds dead kids her age everywhere and a woman grinding her hands to the bone in the garbage disposal. Present day and Claire's shrink suggests that she returns in order to let go. By sheer luck, she gets her chance when an eccentric, cane-wielding man named Walston hires her and the advanced acting class she's in to perform as various horrific characters for a haunted house tour in the Darrode residence.

Claire muzzles her past fears that spring up in the form of hallucinations while her everything's-a-joke acting companions don't take any of the over-the-top theatrics seriously. Walston unveils a system with computer generated holograms that are positioned around the house that look real to the new performers. It acts as a cover up since the movie wastes little time stating it's haunted by the past red-headed care taker Mrs. Darrode herself when she infects the computer system with a ghostly virus. Meanwhile, two reporters are given a tour first to test the effectiveness with authentic looking results. A glitch causes the holograms to turn physical and go on a sadistic killing rampage with the people trapped inside.

The initial idea is to take haunted houses to the next level with physically painless interactions that get as close to the person as it can get--and then from there if they go haywire. Though the film doesn't fully step outside of being a gimmick to get inside a specific fear, often jumping right into them with a cheap and momentary shock that has no staying power. The bloody scenes fall flat as a result. Not to mention the house itself isn't always given distinctions besides a certain hallway or even made out to be alive with the exception of windows opening and closing on their own. The story is ambitious with varying tones, characters and events but then handles a share of it like an underachiever by not taking it with much merit. The film closes on an ambiguous note but has too many conflicting clues as to what it could be while not balancing an intriguing middle. The cast is full of caricatures and their interactions are superficial at best--goth, comic, jock, ditsy, damaged--and the message about religion being put down kids throats had no punch since it was just thrown in and treated second to every other hollow distraction.

The tone of the picture goes in and out of seriousness with Claire trying to cope to then being purposely cheesy with hammy lines and jokes in between. It's often overly fun to the point of being goofy, making it a challenge to feel anything substantial when the actual horror comes into play. It seems too self-aware of its own shortcomings: pointing them out and doing them anyway, as if it was more doctoring its story than being on top. Meghan Maureen McDonough, as a co-host with lesbian tendencies towards the hot blonde, had some effective comic timing despite the picture never knowing which tone it wanted to project. Jeffrey Combs actually feels like he knows his lines front and back and treats his role as Walston with more care and personality than the younger cast. Diane Salinger was impressive and ends up being the best thing about the whole experience despite her limited amount of dialogue. She doesn't hold back in the slightest with a truly psychotic portrayal--contorted facial expressions and demonic voice and all to make any man out there with a pulse impotent--as the red-headed school teacher with a fiery temper.

Rating: 3/10

Director: Darin Scott (Caught Up)
Stars: Jeffrey Combs, Meghan Ory, Diane Salinger
Link: IMDB

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