Down a Dark Hall (Movie Review)

Down a Dark Hall (Movie Review)
7 10

PLOT: Five emotionally fragile teens are committed to Blackwood, a mysterious school for gifted girls. Mesmerized by the intense headmistress Madame Duret, they think they have found a place where they can finally flourish academically and artistically. The mystery deepens as they break through layer after layer of misdirection to discover the true, horrifying purpose of the school.

REVIEW: It's pretty safe to say that one of the horror films I was most looking forward to checking out this year was director Rodrigo Cortés's adaptation of Lois Duncan's DOWN A DARK HALL. Maybe it's just me, but the idea of the director of BURIED and RED LIGHTS taking on an adaptation of one of my favorite horror novelists as a kid, Lois Duncan (I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER) was too good of a pitch to turn down. Add in the fact that the film stars the likes of Uma Thurman (KILL BILL), AnnaSophia Robb (THE REAPING), and Isabelle Fuhrman (ORPHAN) and I was more than sold. The film promised gothic horror for days. Sure, it might be teen (or even borderline kid-horror) but I love these kinds of films all the same. You could say that I was more than primed to enjoy the everloving hell out of this film. So did I? Let's find out!

To kick this off, let me just say that despite all that set-up about loving the work of Lois Duncan, DOWN A DARK HALL is one of the famous young adult novelist's books I never read. Personally, I don't see this as any kind of downfall in enjoying this movie as it may be all the better that I didn't read the book before peeping the film. After all, the 1997 slasher flick adaptation of her novel, I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER is nowhere near a straight adaptation of the source material, so whatever on that. That out of the way, let's talk a bit about this film's plot. 

It all kicks off with a "bad girl" played by the eternally sweet AnnaSophia Robb getting in trouble yet again for something no doubt badass and rebellious. Her parents quickly throw her disobedient, black eyeliner wearing ass into the nearest creepy as f*ck boarding school in the middle of nowhere and call it a day of parenting done right. Here at this gothic horror castle - oops I mean school for troubled girls - Robb meets the headmistress played with a strange accent by Uma Thurman. Thurman is instantly ominous and before long five other young girls, including Isabella Furhman join the sure-to-be horror party. It isn't long before we find out the five girls have something sinister in common. Moo-haha.

All plot and set up out of the way, DOWN A DARK HALL reminded me of a teen/kid horror version of Dario Argento's SUSPIRIA by way of Guillermo del Toro, with a splash of some of the darker latter episodes in the HARRY POTTER franchise. If that sounds like your cup of blood, then, by all means, check out this new supernatural thriller. The film sports gorgeously gothic cinematography via Jarin Blaschke, who is perhaps best known for lensing director Robert Eggers' supernatural neo-classic THE WITCH. The film has a solid soundtrack as well.

That said, one of the main things the film suffers from is its performances. As much as I like Uma Thurman she seems miscast here, the performance is about one pratfall away from a full-on parody. But she does seem to be having a f*cking ball with the part so all's good in my book in the end. And while we're on the subject of performances, even worse for the movie is that they cast AnnaSophia Robb as this flick's lead bad girl. As charming as the actress is, she has more than a hard time pulling off the badass role. Maybe this is because she's known for roles in such films as ESCAPE FROM WITCH MOUNTAIN, BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA, and other such wholesome Disney movie fare, but she didn't sell me on the punk rocker nature of the lead. But that didn't ruin the movie by any means. 

Overall, DOWN A DARK HALL is a kid/teen horror movie through and through. There may not be much here to excite true horror fans that have seen it all, but it will make for a great jumping off point for young horror fans looking for more than just cheap jumpscares. Personally, I really appreciate the fact that this film seems to want to bring the kid/teen horror movie crowd into the world of Gothic horror and even Giallos to a degree. In the end, you can just think of DOWN A DARK HALL as a big-budget, gothic horror remake of Dario Argento's SUSPIRIA - that you can watch with the kiddos.

Extra Tidbit: DOWN A DARK HALL hits Theaters, On Demand, and iTunes August 17th.
Source: AITH



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