Blumhouse Productions stays in "Paranormal Activity"/"Insidious" mode with "The Darkness," its latest slick-looking, modestly budgeted ghost-fest. From the troubled child who communes with the beyond to the featureless suburban home that hosts malicious spirits, this movie ticks all the boxes for modern mainstream shockers.
The cast is the typical mix of accomplished vets and talented newcomers. Kevin Bacon and Radha Mitchell play Peter and Bronny Taylor, a seemingly happily married couple privately coping with his affairs, her alcoholism and their two troubled kids: anorexic teen Stephanie (Lucy Fry) and autistic preadolescent Mikey (David Mazouz).
Then the Taylors' house becomes a staging ground for all manner of freaky occurrences: wild animal infestations, inexplicable stenches, inky black spots on the walls and so on. At first, everyone blames Mikey, who's always been quirky. But eventually the family can't deny a supernatural explanation.
"The Darkness" was directed by Greg McLean, who had a cult hit a decade ago with the brutal serial killer thriller "Wolf Creek." This new film doesn't have that one's elemental pull. The story's pacing is slack and choppy, spending most of its first hour moving from one bizarre incident to the next with no sense of where all the mayhem may be heading.
Finally, thanks to some conveniently informative YouTube videos and a little help from Peter's meddling boss (well-played by Paul Reiser, at his oiliest), the Taylors realize that Mikey swiped some Anasazi runes during a Grand Canyon vacation, and that they'll need help from a Native American healer to ward off vengeful ancients.
The opening scenes at the Canyon are the best parts of "The Darkness," if only because they don't look like every Blumhouse-inspired horror movie of the past five years. Sunlight and shadow in and around breathtaking rock formations are more eye-catching than the umpteenth shot of a shadowy shape scurrying quickly around a kitchen island or sunken living room.
But while McLean and company admirably aim for some relevance by tying the Taylors' haunting to their personal demons, ultimately "The Darkness" is just the same old show: things that go bump in the night, and the tasteful decor they defile.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, some disturbing violence, brief sensuality and language
Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes