Updated: Oct 31, 2018
“DOWN A DARK HALL”
Blu-ray, DVD, Digital copy; 2018; PG-13 for mature thematic content, terror and violence, some profanity including a sexual reference, and smoking; streaming via Amazon Video/Prime, FandangoNOW, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
Best extra: “Welcome to Blackwood: Venturing Down a Dark Hall”
FILMMAKERS OF Spain or Hispanic descent are having a field day in the horror genre.
It might seem they’re following in the footsteps of Guillermo del Toro who gave us “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Crimson Peak,” the Ron Perlman “Hellboy” movies, “The Strain” TV series, and so much more. Then there’s writer/director Sergio G. Sánchez with the brilliant “Marrowbone”; and Andy Muschietti who directed the 2017 “It” reboot, and wrote and directed “Mama” (2013). Absolutely, there’s a long history of schlocky, gory stuff. (Mexican wrestler horror movies, anyone?) But these more recent films are loaded with mystery and atmosphere even when set mostly in daylight like “Marrowbone.”
“Down A Dark Hall,” directed by Rodrigo Cortés, is based on the YA novel by Lois Duncan. The movie isn’t an instant classic, but has a lot going for it with an original idea and major creep factor. The name star here is Uma Thurman as Madame Duret, a contemporary Mrs. Danvers draped in Snape-black. She runs the Blackwood Boarding School, host to a select group of troubled and trouble-making teen girls.
The reluctant star student is Katherine “Kit” Gordy played by AnnaSophia Robb of “Soul Surfer” (2011), “Bridge to Terabithia” (2007), and PBS historic series “Mercy Street.” It looks like Kit may have tried to burn down her high school, the latest in a series of extreme misadventures. She becomes part of a small student body, her classmates played by Isabelle Fuhrman, Victoria Morales, Rosie Day, and Taylor Russell, in an isolated gothic mansion that looks like something Charles Addams could have designed.
The girls never bond as they might have in another film. They more or less get used to each other, avoiding psychotic Veronica (Moroles) however possible. Instead, each becomes fixated on newfound talents in art, writing, mathematics, and music. None of them have shown any prior aptitude, but in Duret’s program of medication and isolation (no cell phones!), they’ve become gifted. She encourages them, while continuing to warn against visiting a particular dark and closed-off section of the building.
Anyone familiar with gothics like “Jane Eyre” and the legend of Bluebeard knows how that will play out. There’s a bit of romance between Kit and Madame Duret’s handsome son Jules (Noah Silver), who teaches music. The film is from the producers of “The Twilight Saga,” after all. Is he evil or a nice guy with a weird mom? No matter. We know, eventually, there will be a body count.
There’s a lot of murk in them there halls, and it’s not the result of overloaded film grain. The 1080p transfer (2.39:1 ratio) from Lionsgate looks very good, although nowhere near as well-crafted as a film like “Winchester.” Color, detail and depth are respectable, not exceptional, but no one should be disappointed. The deliberate gloom and shadows act as another character.
A DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack delivers clear dialogue and effects ranging from mild environmental sound to the climatic fire. It moves well around the room. A dynamic musical score by Victor Reyes, who also worked with Cortés on “Buried” (2010), is the standout. Cortés uses sound as a story-enhancing effect here and it works. Don’t miss the deleted scene with Kit and Jules.
Aside from the deleted scene, there’s a 20 minute “Welcome to Blackwood: Venturing Down a Dark Hall” bonus feature with interviews from the filmmakers and cast. It opens with a flash of the good stuff from the trailer. The girls don’t care where their new gifts come from. “For the first time in their lives they’re doing something special,” Cortés says. They feel important. It’s easy to see how that could be completely intoxicating even if it comes with a price.
“What appealed the most to me … is it feels very elevated for a genre thriller teen film,” Robb says.
The younger set will find this scarier than teens or adults. The trade-off is smarts for gore. There’s a lot to be said for a horror film that relies on plot – and atmosphere!
— Kay Reynolds