M. Night Shyamalan's oeuvre casts a long shadow over Darkness, a plodding, portentous horror thriller in which a spooky child figures prominently and people speak in hushed tones about sinister doings. The Shining proves an equally seminal influence. Ian Glen's performance as a husband and father who moves into a creepy house in the middle of nowhere and proceeds to undergo a steady descent into madness amounts to little more than a feature-length homage to Jack Nicholson in Stanley Kubrick's timeless chiller. Numerous forgettable occult thrillers and garden-variety haunted house movies also count among the stew of influences out of which Darkness emerges, giving it the air of a lifeless, derivative pastiche.
Anna Paquin leads an overqualified cast as a teenager who moves with her mother, father, and younger brother to a secluded rural home that doubles as a rest station for malevolent spirits, sinister vibes, and various things that go bump in the night. Dark omens arrive almost immediately, but Paquin and her sketchily drawn younger brother seem to be the only ones to pick up on them. The always-great Giancarlo Giannini co-stars as Paquin's doctor grandfather and delivers the movie's sole moment of (unintentional) pleasure when he says "You Eeeediot!" exactly like a certain short-tempered Chihuahua created by John Kricfalusi. Darkness aspires to tasteful, restrained horror, but mistakes tedium for understatement. It's not even bad enough to be any fun: It lacks the trashy energy that separates the enjoyably awful from the merely uninspired. Darkness takes forever to get going, then tacks on a maddeningly abrupt note that reeks of post-production meddling. It labors under the delusion of stateliness, but appearances from drunken, fornicating teens, chainsaw-wielding maniacs, and other staples of the sleaziest kind of fright flick would be more than welcome.