Nick Di Santo, the protagonist of the new horror film Dark House, has a unique ability. He is well known enough that a group of strangers asks him to demonstrate his talent in a crowded bar like he’s performing a parlor trick. As with most people when it comes to psychic phenomena, they are skeptical. Nick grabs one outstretched hand. Nothing. He takes the next one. Nothing. Then, he latches hold of the third hand being offered to him, and an electric jolt courses through his body as images assault his mind’s eye. He sees a soldier in a foreign country blown into the air by an explosion. With that single flash of intuition, he knows how the young man he is shaking hands with will die. And Nick is never wrong.
When Nick’s mother dies, he inherits an old family property only to find out that the residence disappeared in a flood. It was washed off its foundation and drifted away. From time to time, locals claim to have seen it, but the sightings are inconsistent. A house can’t appear and disappear on a whim. Can it? There’s only one way to find out: round up a couple of friends and a friendly crew of road surveyors and head into the woods to find out first-hand.
This premise gives way to town’s folk who know more than they’re telling, voices coming from inside walls, and the occasional slasher-style killing. While Dark House treads some familiar territory, these elements are woven together in unexpected ways. Many genre films remain so faithful to their predecessors that they become nothing more than predictable variations of better movies we’ve already seen. So give Dark House some points for daring to be different.
The cast is the usual mixed bag that comes with middle-tier horror films. Luke Kleintank and Alex McKenna make credible leads as Nick and Eve. Some of the supporting players have less to offer, so there are some wooden exchanges of dialogue along the way. Tobin Bell of the Saw franchise offers another variation on his mysterious raspy-voiced persona. He’s the Robert Englund of the 2000s, but without the campy approach to the material and an effortless ability to project an air of menace.
It’s rare that production companies spend tens of millions on a horror film. When they can afford superior performers and lengthier shooting schedules, we get the occasional gems like Insidious (2010), Sinister (2012) and The Conjuring (2013). However, there are many more expensive misfires out there that prove that budget and talent don’t always equate to a quality finished product.
Dark House manages to tell an interesting story without the expensive bells and whistles because of the creativity of the story being told. Screenwriter Charles Agron and writer/director Victor Salva take the well-worn horror tropes of psychic abilities, a mysterious house with a past, and the ax-wielding killer and turn them into something more original than those story elements would suggest. At times the plot stumbles like a scantily clad coed running through the woods, but I always found myself wondering what would happen next.
Some fans and critics would refer to Dark House as a “guilty pleasure”. Only I don’t feel guilty about enjoying films with a creepy atmosphere, a few good scares and a story that takes me somewhere I haven’t been before. Dark House isn’t a great horror movie, but, truth be told, there aren’t that many great horror movies out there. The horror genre is a land of personal preference, and you should see it for yourself to decide. I, for one, was entertained.
DARK HOUSE will open in Atlanta exclusively at AMC Southlake on Friday, March 21
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.