Writer and director Padraig Reynolds, whose prior effort was the somewhat interesting Rites of Spring, is back with Dark Light. What kind of movie Reynolds has in store for audiences depends on the promotional material you’re looking at. Some posters tease an alien invasion angle. Other promotional materials hint at subterranean monsters. Everything suggests a movie about a single mother and daughter battling otherworldly dangers for survival. What Dark Light inevitably delivers is an ‘all of the above’ mess that’s missing the one essential ingredient – it’s not very scary.
Following a divorce and mental breakdown, Annie Knox returns to her countryside family home with her daughter, Emily. Almost immediately upon her arrival, strange occurrences torment her. Doors open and close on their own, bright lights flicker in the cornfields, and Emily starts having nosebleeds. When Emily disappears, the local sheriff arrests Annie charges her with murder. But Annie claims monsters living under the house took her daughter.
Dark Light Throws Everything at the Wall … And Nothing Sticks
Give writer and director Padraig Reynolds some credit, he stuffs Dark Light with ideas. None of these ideas are particularly original. But at least one can’t argue Dark Light isn’t ambitious. Yet not unlike throwing a bunch of ingredients at a wall, nothing really sticks and it doesn’t look particularly good. Dark Light starts off as a ‘haunted house’ chiller before teasing an ‘alien invasion’ plot. Finally, Reynolds settles on a ‘monsters’ story all while borrowing on ideas we’ve seen in better movies.
Yet not unlike throwing a bunch of ingredients at a wall, nothing really sticks and it doesn’t look particularly good.
Outside of its basic story, from start to finish, Dark Light is a ‘dog’s breakfast’ of story-telling. First, Reynolds tries some non-linear story-telling. Things start with Emily’s disappearance and Annie’s arrest. For the next 45 minutes or so, Reynolds alternates between Annie’s interrogation and extended flashbacks of the events leading up to her arrest. At the movie’s midpoint, Reynolds abruptly abandons this approach. Following an escape somewhat reminiscent of Rob Zombie’s Halloween II, Annie is on the lam with the sheriff and her ex-husband in pursuit. Not surprisingly, everyone ends up back at the house for an underground rescue that loosely recalls Aliens. In fact, Dark Light is a collection of ‘hey, I’ve seen something like that’ moments, none of which are convincing.
‘Headlight’ Monsters Illuminate a Lack of Scares, Stilted Performances
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and a lack of originality is hardly a deal-breaker. But where Dark Light goes wrong is its inability to infuse any of its ideas with tension or scares. Occasionally, Reynolds scores a few mild jumps. Too bad these scenes are few and far between. What’s left are long stretches of heavy-handed set-ups more likely to elicit groans and test one’s patience. Though Dark Light doesn’t look cheap – Reynolds is a competent filmmaker – it’s still a middle-of-the-road production. Whether it’s the melodramatic ‘made-for-television’ score or the silly-looking ‘headlight’ monsters, Dark Light rarely raises above a weak X-Files episode. A couple of brutally effective deaths in the climax are too little, too late.
…Dark Light rarely raises above a weak X-Files episode.
While Reynolds’ screenplay collects a range of tired character tropes, his cast underwhelms with the material. Lead actress Jessica Madsen (Leatherface) is miscast in the role as a desperate mother fighting for her daughter. She lacks the emotional range and, as a result, is unconvincing. Reynolds’ dangling out Annie’s past mental health issues only to inexplicably drop it also underserved Madsen. However, no one else in the cast offers much support. Ed Brody and Kristina Clifford, ex-husband and sheriff, respectively, turn in wooden performances. And Gerard Tyler’s ‘Walter Simms’ is the conspiracy theorist character you’ve seen in dozens of movies.
Dark Light is Forgettable With, or Without, The Lights Off
Watch it with the lights on or off, it doesn’t matter – Dark Light is a forgettable thriller. Neither good enough to enjoy nor bad enough to enjoy ironically, Dark Light is a generic, underwhelming effort best skipped over. For Netflix horror fans, consider Dark Light in the same regard as another forgettable movie dumped onto the streaming platform – Seven in Heaven. No one heard of it before, no one knew it was coming, and you’d be better off not knowing it was even available.