Written by: Matt Molgaard
With only a single viewing of Victor Salva’s latest, Dark House, it’s somewhat challenging to really craft a review of the film. There’s a good reason for that, as the film seems to toy with about a dozen different concepts, stuffing every idea into one single 100-minute movie. To be honest, my initial sit down with Salva’s (who I happen to be a huge fan of, despite his checkered past) most recent project left me completely confused.
Nick Di Santo’s a 23-year old kid with a lot of crazy shit lurking about his mental corridors. He’s also gifted… or cursed. See, this guy has been bouncing from foster home to foster home since he was eight years old, and it’s toyed with his head quite a bit… but not as much as the profoundly atypical affliction he carries with him on a day-to-day basis. If you’re destined to die a gruesome death, and Nick touches you, he can see exactly how you bite the bullet. I wonder, what the hell happens when he – pardon the crude nature of this terminology – touches himself? There’s no way this dude is going out during a peaceful slumber. Anyhow, Nick’s issues burrow far deeper than that. The dude’s dad is apparently some form of demon maestro, his mom is toast (literally; sorry for the spoiler), he knows his friends are destined to die, and to top it all off, he runs into an axe-wielding weirdo who seems to control an entire horde of… zombies? Ghouls? Brain dead murderers? Whatever they are, they’re handy with the axe as well. Nick encounters all of this madness while searching for a mysterious house he’s recently inherited. A house that up and moves, all on its own. Within said house waits terror unlike even he can imagine, and a revelation that should leave every viewer staggering upon inevitable disclosure.
You picking up what I’m putting down? There’s just so much going on that it’s hard to hold focus on the grand lesson of the film. In fact, it isn’t the easiest thing to identify the truly climactic admission at all. It feels as though we’re treated to so many ideas we’re almost prone to lose concentration on the design of the pic. That’s not a good thing, but in some ways, it kind of works.
For me, Dark House conjured immediate comparisons to Don Coscarelli’s, Phantasm. The shit is flying in so many directions it’s tough to see everything launched at us, let alone duck. But some of the subtext (I don’t even feel entirely comfortable calling some of this madness subtext, as that isn’t quite the appropriate label) proves to be highly enthralling. There’s a demonic twist in the tale that really succeeds in stimulating the senses, as it’s totally unforeseen. There’s also a spin in Nick’s personality that is revealed in the waning moments of the movie that comes as a genuine surprise. But for every surprising strength of the film, there are weaknesses to be unearthed.
Luke Kleintank plays the role of Nick Di Santo. I’m not familiar with this guy’s work, but I can tell you this: he was miscast in this role. You can’t cast a rail-thin kid with long hair and feminine features when the designated character wears those cutoff gloves that were hip as all hell in the 1980s. That just doesn’t work, because you’d better look like a true badass. And to be honest, Kleintank’s a little too stiff, and not quite assertive enough to sell this character. Tobin Bell, who I’ve always considered awesome, also opened my eyes to something I (somehow) hadn’t detected in the past – the man has the same expression on his face 110-percent of the time. Seriously, it never changes. Let me just say that his character, Seth, is a complex character that calls for a wide range of emotional expression. Doesn’t come together. Neither do the strange zombie/ghosts/freak things either. They just don’t look frightening in any way, which makes their hostility somewhat laughable.
This is one of the most interesting pieces I’ve seen from Salva. It’s also the first film he’s helmed that left me less than satisfied (a side-note: I haven’t seen Peaceful Warrior). I just can’t decide how much I enjoyed the picture. It’s definitely got its moments (I do dig the fact that Salva sticks with his number 23 theme throughout the flick), but it’s definitely got a few things working against it as well. Dark House is neither terrible, nor great; it’s watchable, but not the masterpiece I’d hoped for.