“The Darkness”

Kevin Bacon is lucky I’m a fan; otherwise, I would have avoided the horror catastrophe known as “The Darkness.”

Bacon is Pete, the father of two children – teenager Stephanie (Lucy Fry) and her younger autistic brother Mikey (David Mazouz). Pete and his wife Bronny (Radha Mitchell) take their kids camping at the Grand Canyon where Mikey finds some marked rocks, removes them, and takes them home. Afterwards, all of the cliched disturbances at night, power outages, markings on the walls, animal attacks, and an unusual amount of melodrama occur.

Kevin Bacon doesn’t look like he’s enjoying himself in “The Darkness.” He mumbles his lines and appears embarrassed portraying a dimwitted cheater. No one in this movie is likable, which is unusual for a haunted house movie. The families in “The Conjuring,” “Insidious,” “Sinister,” and “Poltergeist” were all charming and lovable families that we could root for. The Taylors in “The Darkness” aren’t that family.

Pete has a history of womanizing and being an absent workaholic, Bronny is an alcoholic, and Stephanie hides an eating disorder from her parents and picks on Mikey constantly? This is one dysfunctional family, but the problem is there isn’t anything to make them redeemable.

Stephanie’s eating disorder subplot drops after two scenes and we never hear anything again. We don’t know why she has this condition; it just happens. Pete’s boss (Paul Reiser) encourages him to go after a young receptionist and claims to worship him for his womanizing past. We know nothing about what made Bronny pick up the bottle in the first place, so this subplot comes off pointless and forced.

“The Darkness” was trying too hard to be “The Babadook,” but that movie took time to pace itself between scares and develop the characters, making their flaws understandable. “The Darkness” isn’t that at all. For a couple concerned about their kids being terrorized by a ghost, they sure don’t mind going out on a double date.

The scares in this movie are as you expect: eerie music, someone investigates a noise, nothing there, turn around, and CLANNNNNNNNG! The climax itself isn’t convincing or scary since all they have to do is put the rocks away.

Director Greg McLean also brought us “Wolf Creek” in 2005, and he sure has warped ideas about women. In “Wolf Creek,” our only female characters are tortured and shot to death while the man survives. In “The Darkness,” our only female characters are either stereotypes or exposition tools. McLean should listen to the great George RR Martin and just write female characters as people.

“The Darkness” is a mess, and in a year of really good horror films and thrillers, “The Darkness” is the worst horror flick of 2016 so far.

Grade: F

“Cop Car”

Would you steal a presumably abandoned cop car filled with loaded guns? What if you knew it belonged to a mustached, morally ambiguous sheriff? “Cop Car” is a clear warning to not mess with cop cars.

“Cop Car” is Jon Watts’s (our new “Spider-Man” reboot director) second film and opens with two friends, Travis and Harrison, wondering in a field and cursing loudly. We learn through dialogue that they’re running away from home and they come across an abandoned cop car. In an extreme case of “boys will be boys”, these naive kids take the car for a joy ride, crossing paths with a dangerous mustached sheriff (the great Kevin Bacon) in the process.

The main appeal for “Cop Car” is Bacon’s menacing and darkly funny performance as Sheriff Kretzler. He’s a unique villain because he thinks he’s smarter than he is. Kretlzer is lucky due to his law enforcement background and much younger adversaries.

Harrison (Hays Welford) and Travis (James Freedson-Jackson) are perhaps two of the most realistic child characters portrayed in film since “Stand By Me” (1986). In fact, they have a darkly funny moment involving an arsenal guns that’s very reminiscent of a particular gun scene in “Stand By Me”. As much as I liked these young knuckleheads, I wondered why are they running away?

I often had questions in the last ten minutes of “Cop Car”. The main one though, who was the villain? It definitely didn’t feel like the sheriff after a while.

SPOILER ALERT

We’re introduced to an unnamed bruised man (Shea Wigham) halfway through the movie who becomes a greater danger to the boys than Kretzler. They find this man in the trunk and we’re then uncertain of who the true villain is in the film’s climax. This is because we never learn about Kretzler’s background story or his shady side business.

“Cop Car” is a good coming-of-age thriller, but it could have easily been better without the over-reliance on ambiguity, especially with its maddeningly open conclusion.

Grade: B