Director: Patrick DeLuca
Producer: Ryan Craig, Danny Lutman, Harris Wilkinson
Stars: Sara Fletcher, Gunner Wright, Mykayla Sohn, Brittany Falardeau, Nikki Howard, Raphael Thompson, Thomas Rand, Jennifer Schoch, Adam Tucker, Honey Lauren, Gina Jackson
A troubled couple moves with their daughter to a countryside home haunted by a dark presence with murderous intent.
Being a Lifetime Network original, the hitch to “House of Darkness” is recognizing that it is a movie made to slot in between “Seduced by My Sister’s Husband” and “I Swiped Right on a Stalker.” The target demo is casual viewers accustomed to made-for-cablers concerning social media nightmares and incestuous family melodrama, as opposed to dyed-in-the-wool horror fans eagerly eating up a “Saw” marathon over on Chiller.
Keeping that in mind, it stands to reason that as far as haunted house thrillers go, “House of Darkness” is understandably going to be toned down, tame, and safe enough for Sunday night prime time. Fine, though that shouldn’t mean the movie has to settle for being the pedestrian production that it is.
Kelly and Brian have a troubled marriage. Looking to escape the stress of the city, the couple packs up with young daughter Sarah and trades the fog of San Francisco for a quiet country getaway. They don’t yet know that their new home was the site of two horrible crimes and locals still whisper about a dark presence driving its occupants to murder. But Kelly and Brian are about to find out firsthand when paranormal activity amps up and odd behavior becomes ordinary for a husband, wife, and child taking a slow descent into madness.
Throw a dart anywhere on the board of typical haunting/possession tropes and you’ll hit something in “House of Darkness.” A little girl speaking to someone who isn’t there. A worried mother experiencing inexplicable visions of her own. A disbelieving husband poo-pooing all suspicions of evil entities as nonsense. An imprisoned mental case and backstory-blathering cop connecting exposition dots in the last act.
Since it has to fill the expected functions of a Lifetime movie as well, “House of Darkness” also adds lusty neighbors and extramarital seduction, a marriage counselor therapy session, arguments over child custody, even a scene of shopping for artisan soaps. So familiar is the formula on all fronts, if this review were written by a “Seinfeld” character, the rest of the plot point summary could be reduced to “yada yada yada.”
It’s possible that “House of Darkness” was written by a fictional character, too. Curiously, there currently isn’t a screenwriter credited on the IMDB entry, on Lifetime’s webpage for the film, or within the broadcast version of the movie itself.
Perhaps the person(s) responsible aren’t itching for their association to be made public. Maybe Lifetime hopes people will be too hooked by the “based on true events” tagline to notice no one admits ownership of the script.
What is the “true story” exactly? Who knows? The only hint offered by Lifetime is their vague promotional blurb, “recounts the mysterious case of a San Francisco family who claimed that a dark force was responsible for the tragic events that unfolded.” The story is so generic that there aren’t any worthwhile details specific enough to yield useful internet search results, either.
On the other hand, betting men and women might suspect that any actual inspiration comes from Long Island instead of San Francisco. Brian’s transformation from jealous husband to potentially crazed killer comes complete with a continuously carried ax. Insects swarm someone summoned to investigate the haunting. A hidden room in the cellar holds sinister secrets. A possessive spirit drives inhabitants to kill their families. Pick up what the movie is putting down and you’ll soon sense the only ingredient missing is a foundation built on an Indian burial ground.
It could be that the reason for such seeming caginess about the “true events” claim and who is really responsible for the story has something to do with not wanting to be sued by George Lutz’s estate for copyright infringement. Because the parallels are so indisputably similar that “House of Darkness” can easily be categorized as a poor man’s “The Amityville Horror.”
The only other word needed for describing anything about “House of Darkness” is “average.” All of the strangeness happening in the house isn’t given context until close to the climax. There is no initial indication if the haunting has to do with horrible history, a vengeful ghost, occult rituals, etc. Scares are thus a hollow series of fleeting shadows, bumps in the night, and slow creeps in darkness. The movie goes through these motions of standard spooky movie construction, yet the lack of effort to go beyond such basics leaves the whole thing listless.
It’s genuinely exciting to see Lifetime branching out of their bailiwick with more risqué genre efforts including “Flowers in the Attic” (review here), “Lizzie Borden Took an Ax” (review here), et al. “House of Darkness” has a similar spirit in its setup as PG-13 fright fare intended for an atypical audience. The movie is just so content to appeal only to those with a passing interest in supernatural thrillers that it cannot be anything other than milquetoast.
Review Score: 55