Overview: A woman relocates her husband and young daughter to Colombia after receiving a job opportunity from her father. Their new home seems like the perfect move, until ghostly, disfigured children begin haunting them. 2014; Distributed by Vertical Entertainment; Rated PG-13; 92 minutes.
New Locale, Same Haunted House: From the onset, Out of the Dark is filled with potential, much of this due to the refreshing change in location. Spanish director Lluis Quilez makes great use of the film’s Colombian setting early on, bringing to life the markets, churches, and neighborhoods that make up the fictional village of Santa Clara. Despite the film’s unique setting, Quilez leads us into familiar territory once the haunting begins. While the bandage clad ghost children are a great visual element, we see too much of them too early, stripping them of their mystique. Most of the horror Sara (Julia Stiles), and Paul (Scott Speedman) encounter boils down to shadowy apparitions in windows and photographs, dumbwaiter trickery, and the always reliable loud noises, each telegraphed by the film’s music cues. While there’s a creep factor, Quilez can’t effectively manage to merge the originality of the setting he’s established with the genre he’s chosen to work in, which ultimately leaves Out of the Dark restrained.
Horrors of Colonialism: Despite the paint by numbers scares, Out of the Dark does have the admirable ambition to be about something more than just things going bump in the night. Early in the film, Paul learns of the Conquistadors who attacked Santa Clara for silver and burned the town’s children alive. This historical component is situated within the context of the present day story that involves the paper mill which Sara and her father, Jordan (Stephen Rea), manage. Jordan’s claim that he “civilized” Santa Clara is a pointed look at Western-minded arrogance. This notion of civilized versus uncivilized is further highlighted in the third act of the film, which features a brief down river boat ride that may likely be a reference to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. The sheer subtextual power that went into this aspect of the film is almost worth forgiveness for its haunting clichés, but most of that goodwill is botched by a tame and neat conclusion.
Into the Light: The best horror forces us to look at our twisted reflections, to the effect of leaving us unsettled. Out of the Dark instead goes for the saccharine conclusion of bright colors, smiling children, and forgiveness that comes too easily. Quilez seemingly tries to a take cues from Guillermo Del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone, but the emotional climax doesn’t feel nearly as rewarding within the context of the themes that have been introduced. While the title seems to refer to light being shed on history and the repeated evils of so-called civilized men, in the end we’re instead left with a title that begs the question, isn’t it great that the nice American family made it out of the jungle ok? While Out of the Dark isn’t bad, it’s a frustratingly uneven film that never grasps the fact that horror isn’t jump scares, but rather the things that linger and can’t be fixed.