Studio: New Video Group
Director: Victor Salva
Writer: Charles Agron, Victor Salva
Producer: Charles Agron, Don E. Fauntleroy, Victor Salva
Stars: Luke Kleintank, Anthony Rey Perez, Alex McKenna, Zack Ward, Lacey Anzelc, Ethan S. Smith, Max Gail, Lesley-Anne Down, Tobin Bell
Born with an ability to see how people will die, Nick investigates a haunted family home that holds the truth about his mysterious power.
“Dark House” cruises effectively for a considerable amount of time on the strength of a strange mystery that steadily increases its intoxicating weirdness by piling on elements of haunted house suspense, angel versus demon mythology, and ax-wielding maniac mayhem. Then once all of the cards have been dealt, the hand plays out as a round of flat action that tastes disappointingly stale in light of how many potent ingredients were in the mix.
Provided that person is destined to die in horribly violent fashion, Nick has the ability to touch someone and see how s/he will meet the reaper. The origin behind his blessing/curse involves a father he never knew, an insane mother who speaks to a voice in the walls, and a dark mansion in the woods that literally fell off the map when a flood wiped out a small town.
By the time “Dark House” reaches its midpoint, Nick has collected a pregnant girlfriend, a concerned buddy, a trio of helpful land surveyors, and the deed to that mysterious old house mentioned earlier. En route to uncovering the secrets of said house, Nick and company encounter a crimp-haired Tobin Bell, a gaggle of ax-tossing golems, and end up in a parallel reality where all roads lead back to the mansion no matter what.
“Dark House” spins a web with so many intriguingly bizarre threads that it is almost impossible not to smile while marveling at the inventiveness of its amalgamated ideas and wondering how in the world all of these things will tie together. With so much for the imagination to chew on, it feels like “Dark House” is leading towards something cleverer than what it ultimately delivers. So when the hump between lead-in and climax drags the momentum through a tar pit, it affords more time to recognize that most of the toys in the sandbox end up buried at the bottom, unused and unnecessary.
It is a mild letdown since “Dark House” initially appears to be creating a fresh and fun original story out of tired tropes and well-worn plot devices. After it becomes clear that the mystery merely builds to an average good battling evil theme, the movie rushes to make pieces fit and whatever doesn’t is left by the wayside.
“Dark House” stands flapping in the wind with asides regarding numerology, foretold prophecies, and Nick’s “Dead Zone” ability that kicked off the whole story ending up in effect as inessential distractions. And when the script is backed into a corner with something it doesn’t know how to handle, it lobs a Hail Mary pass that more often than not sticks out like a throbbing red thumb.
In one instance, once everyone is lost in the forest, trapped in an old house, and surrounded by murderous men brandishing tree-chopping blades, naturally no one’s cell phone works. Except when one of the characters needs a bit of background exposition about the unfolding drama. Then he is suddenly able to Google a few convenient references for plot-advancing purposes, even though making a phone call is still a no-go.
“Saw” icon Tobin Bell enters odd Danny Trejo territory with his too brief appearance in “Dark House.” Despite top billing and a co-producer credit to boot, Bell appears in what is still an important role, albeit one that is only onscreen for three relatively short scenes.
Although he relies a little heavily on watery saucer eyes to convey his tortured good guy persona, Luke Kleintank and the rest of the cast are more than game for delivering solid performances that are actually better than some of the material they have to work with. Director Victor Salva and his co-writer Charles Agron were on their way towards tapping into classic horror inspirations for a seemingly unique spin on familiar territory. And they still manage to create a fair share of tense atmosphere and entertaining set pieces. But the final direction loses its focus before buckling under the weight of characters, concepts, and side plots that do more to weigh down the core story than they do to enhance it.
Review Score: 60