Director: Rodrigo Cortes
Writer: Mike Goldbach, Chris Sparling
Producer: Stephenie Meyer, Wyck Godfrey, Marty Bowen, Meghan Hibbett, Adrian Guerra
Stars: AnnaSophia Robb, Isabelle Fuhrman, Victoria Moroles, Noah Silver, Taylor Russell, Rosie Day, Rebecca Front, Jodhi May, Pip Torrens, Uma Thurman
Troubled teen girls uncover a startling connection between their mysterious boarding school and the ghosts of gifted artists.
Kit typifies a rebellious movie teen. A nose ring, smoky eye makeup, and smart aleck quips externalize the inner aftershocks still rippling since the death of her dad when she was a child. Actress AnnaSophia Robb certainly puffs in as much personality as Kit’s scowling pout can handle. “Down a Dark Hall” nonetheless forges its emotional anchor from evergreen ores.
Madame Duret on the other hand, doesn’t entirely overeat from the table of harsh headmistress habits like stiff posture, puckered cheeks, or the sternness of a knuckle-rapping stick. She doesn’t have to, since ominous housekeeper Miss Olonsky fills the function of dirty deed doer. Duret paints only one of her sides as a dour disciplinarian while the other smilingly assures students that their full creative potential will finally be empowered. Uma Thurman deliciously chews on Duret’s dual-layered characterization with evident relish, employing a French accent so curious, I can’t decide if it’s distractingly campy or expertly executed for effect.
To the detriment of their restricted capacity for soliciting audience empathy, the bad girls of Blackwood Boarding School who aren’t Kit occupy interchangeable identities. Kit’s four classmates arrive in a slow-motion montage set to a trendy-sounding song, unpack attitudinal angst, then leave individuality in their luggage, with Veronica’s cigarette-smoking penchant for violent confrontation making her the sole noisemaker. The other three, characters and actresses alike, skate by largely unrecognized.
Exposition lays out stops for the story’s upcoming route. Foreshadowing features the confiscation of cellphones in conspicuous cutaways, dialogue about it being “entirely possible to reach the nearest town” despite the grandly Gothic building’s remote location, and oh, an eye-catching door at the end of an unlit corridor Madame Duret enticingly teases as being “off limits to the students.”
That door of course plays a key role in a supernatural secret regarding Blackwood’s syllabus. Tutored by teachers dedicated to separate disciplines, each girl strangely starts excelling at a single subject, eerily echoing attributes of long-dead scholars and artists.
Kit lucks out by scoring Madame Duret’s alluring son Jules as her very hands-on instructor. Equaling Jules in dreaminess is the cinematography of sunlit windows swallowing the pair in circular camera sweeps as Jules’ arms envelop Kit’s while playing piano in tandem. Exceeding Kit’s sudden ivory-tickling skills in inexplicability is the swiftness with which the duo’s lukewarm romance blooms in time to turn a critical plot point.
“Twilight” creator Stephenie Meyer co-produced “Down a Dark Hall” from a screenplay based on a book by Lois Duncan, who also wrote the novel “I Know What You Did Last Summer.” Those two names offer fair indicators of this film’s tamer thriller tone, although “Down a Dark Hall” leans even closer to the PG end of PG-13 than the movies made from those other two titles. Influential flashes of “The Craft” can be seen in the students, “Harry Potter” in Blackwood’s odd architecture, and any number of quiet European chillers in the mood (take your pick from “The Woman in Black 2,” “The Orphanage,” “The Lodgers” (review here), etc.).
More of an indifferent nibble on Netflix than a specifically sought after rental, “Down a Dark Hall’s” plainly straightforward nature earns it a median grade of three stars out of five. Add a star if you’re in the target teen demographic for which its taste is tailored. Take at least one away if you errantly gear up for a mature mystery or straight shot of pure horror.
Several peculiarities chafe technical edges, such as excessive insect chittering all over the audio, even (especially) during indoor exchanges. Standardized scenes involving predictable revelations don’t do the film any favors either.
For the most part, “Down a Dark Hall” gets enough gas out of adequate atmosphere and performances to maintain a safe speed for copacetic intrigue and entertainment. “Down a Dark Hall” doesn’t try any harder than necessary, which turns out to be okay considering its inoffensive intentions of serving up slumber party spooks and soapy young adult drama.
NOTE: There is a brief post-credits scene.
Review Score: 60