By: Matt Cummings
For many years, the B-slasher genre has been plagued by poor acting and low-budget gore, failing to garner the attention of mass audiences. Dark House proves that the latter is no longer a hindrance, but also demonstrates that the genre is getting closer to respectability.
Nick (Luke Kleintank) has a unique gift: he can see a person's death merely by touching them. He knows how his mother (who checked herself into a mental institution) will die, but has never met his father. When his mother suddenly dies - exactly the way he had foreseen - Nick learns that not only is his father alive but that he may hold the key to understanding Nick's origin. He sets out with his pregnant girlfriend Eve (Alex McKenna) and his best friend Ray (Anthony Rey Perez) to uncover the truth, only to find that a dilapidated mansion from his distant memory holds the key to his fate.
Dark House is hybrid possession/devil/haunted house tale, complete with biblical characters, axe-wielding demon hunters, and plenty of half-beating hearts. Director and Co-Writer Victor Salva builds a very good Act 1, setting up Nick's story and the suggestion that the number 23 will soon determine his fate and that of his impending child. Salva brings the creep on via a small town that's keenly interested in Nick's party, along with a team of land surveyors who aren't what they seem. Salva shoots both pretty images and frames his horror without too many 'gotcha' moments, bolstered by good CGI and realistic gore.
Unfortunately, the B-nature of this film soon creeps in, with both a cast that can't deliver Salva's lines and a story that gets too convoluted by the third act. Early on, Salva has us believing his tale in the best way possible: a thriller-horror flick that smartly uses its low budget to build tension. We're worried about Nick and Eve, inquisitive about the mansion's seemingly indestructible nature, and fearful of the mansion's protector Seth (Tobin Bell). Eventually, logic begins to escape the story: we never learn whether the house can actually be destroyed, nor does Seth and his 'team' spend time actually trying to destroy it or protecting Eve. They make little effort to inform her of their mission, choosing instead to wallop other minor characters and then engage in a large brawl during the climax. Additionally, Nick's fate doesn't resonate throughout Dark House - without giving things away, his transformation near film's end feels sudden and lacks the necessary build up that could have added another dramatic layer to things. The movie gets too loose during the second act, and trimming it 15 minutes certainly would have helped.
Again, Dark House isn't terrible at all: it's actually one of the best B-slasher films we've seen, filled with good CGI, a suitably creepy house, and a mostly enjoyable plot. But it also demonstrates why being married to your material is never a good thing. A shoddy ending for Nick and too few explanations about his world derail a project that could have been theater-worthy. Catch his on Netflix and maybe even add it to your Halloween viewing schedule. You won't be impressed, but you won't be bored either. Dark House is rated R for horror violence and language and has a runtime of 100 minutes.
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