It’s always frustrating when I find a new flick that grabs my attention, then drops me on my ass. You Fellow Fans know what I’m talking about; a movie starts out fairly strong, gets you into the story, keeps you interested…then slides off the plate somewhere between the second and third reel. Sometimes it just blows up like a bomb, seeming like either the writer or director (or both) just said to hell with it and slapped something together just to get the damned movie finished. Other times, it’s a more gradual fall; the movie just slowly slips outta your grasp, elements unraveling at such a pace that you can’t quite put your finger on just where or when it lost traction.
Dark House seemed to have a lot going for it; you have the maligned but still capable Victor Salva directing, and Jigsaw himself, Tobin Bell, appropriately nastied up and looking viciously creepy in an important role. Wrap that up into the appealing package of a supposedly cursed house that hid itself deep in the woods; sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?
Nick respectfully pays his mother a visit at her home; in her case, however, she’s not just at home, she’s in a home; the kind with orderlies, thorazine, and bars on the windows. During his stay, she informs him between wig-outs that the father he has long believed dead is still alive. This is of particular interest to Nick (beyond the obvious); you see, he has this ‘gift’, where when he touches certain people, he can see how they are going to die, but only if it’s horrific and violent (some gift). A mystery to him for years, he holds out hope that his father can shed some light on this strange, rather unpleasant ability. Unfortunately, mom has an “accident” and dies before she can tell him where to look for his long lost dad. She does, however, leave him the deed to an old house that has plagued his dreams and visions for as long as he can recall. Taking his best friend and pregnant girlfriend along, Nick embarks on a road trip to find this mystery house, but it’s not as simple as GPS-ing the address; locals near where the house was tell him a tale of a horrible flood, one that washed the whole damned town away on the day Nick was born (what a co-inky-dink!).
According to local legend, however, the house still stands, having righted itself at some unknown location deep in the forest. Having come this far, the trio decides to search around the area a bit; they soon find a state survey team that thinks they may know some truth to substantiate the legend. The six of them set out, and after a short drive and a hike, lo and behold; there the house stands in the midst of the woods, having come to rest against a gnarled and troubled-looking tree. All of this is like a shadowy childhood dream come true to Nick…until they discover that although it may have deserted the town, the house itself is far from deserted.
I hasten to say that this isn’t a bad movie; it’s competently directed, it has some nicely-done scary imagery and decent effects. Although some of the actor’s performances come off a little weak, it’s all still a notch or two above the standard direct-to-video acting that I’m used to seeing. The settings are gorgeous and well-shot, and the film comes off looking like a bigger money production than it is. The story has some interesting, wide-ranging elements, and there’s a twist that, while not really what you’d call entirely original, still catches you a bit off-guard. The problem I had with the film was that it never really seemed to lock down any particular element; it kept you guessing, but never paid you off for your patience. You get some answers, but they spawn even more mysteries. Lather, rinse, and repeat that process until the end; you get one big reveal, but are left with a hell of a lot of unanswered questions. Sometimes leaving an ending open is a benefit to a film, but in this case I was left feeling very dissatisfied and disappointed when the credits rolled; for the flick to have had a pretty fresh turn on the “house in the woods” archetype and some genuinely creepy imagery, I expected more than the disjointed and unresolved feeling I ended up with.
It’s worth a watch for Bell’s performance and some spooky sequences; like I said, it’s not a bad film, I just feel a loss for what I believe it could have been.
That’s my take on it, Fellow Fans.
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