If you’ve ever rolled your eyes when someone raises why an actor with a disability isn’t playing that disability part in a film, or why that person from Armenia isn’t playing the Armenian or why that French person isn’t playing the person with the French accent, then Down A Dark Hall will convince you of why it’s always a good idea.
Based on a book of the same name from Lois Duncan, wrote in 1974 – Duncan also wrote I Know What You Did Last Summer in 1973 – Down A Dark Hall has a strong premise and a good start, but is handicapped by terrible accents a rushed plot and a slow burn, until things actually burn.
Down A Dark Hall has echoes of Harry Potter; big old creepy school, gifted children not knowing why they are there, strange goings on but here the similarities endeth.
For, unlike Harry Potter, Down A Dark Hall has a real problem with light, and the use thereof, in so much as it doesn’t use much of it. Scenes are so dark they are unwatchable in a lot of cases, you perhaps wouldn’t mind so much if the sets were rubbish, or it was used for effect, but the sets look good, what you can see of them, and it’s not used for any kind of effect, that you can see at least.
Then we get to Uma Thurman (“Pulp Fiction”, “Kill Bill”) and Noah Silver (“Last Knights”, “Tyrant (TV)”) who where both born in the USA, so what possessed them to decide to take a on a role that involved speaking in a French accent, not French, just the accent, is beyond me.
Thurman sounds British half the time whilst Silver sounds like he’s just stepped out of ‘Allo ‘Allo. If he’d muttered “Good Moaning” it wouldn’t have felt so out of place.
The story sees tearaway teen Kit, AnnaSophia Robb (an all grown up Violet Beauregarde from “Charlie And The Chocolate Factory”), arrive at Blackwood, an old, creepy school for ‘gifted children’ in the middle of a forest.
Except, there are only five of them, all teenage girls, all with a troubled history of violence, arson and the like. Thurman explains they are all “geefted”, sorry, gifted and she’ll bring it out of them. In actuality it’s what she’s putting in that should worry the girls.
As things begin to go bump in the night and the girls begin to find sudden, hidden talents, Kit is the one to question things and uncovers a plot involving dark forces and a door to who knows where.
Rodrigo Cortes (“Buried”, “The Contestant”) does a nice job behind the camera, although he mixes his styles too much, there’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Edgar Wright moment in there which is ridiculously out of place but, on the whole, it’s a nice-looking film, what you can see of it at least.
Michael Goldbach (“Mary Kills People (TV)”, “The Romanoffs (TV)”) and Chris Sparling (“Buried”, “Mercy”) bring the book to the screen but, whether down to the source material or what was taken out, the story is slow and lacking tension, not what you need for a horror/thriller.
Perhaps bringing an over 40-year old book to the big screen was just a step too far, perhaps the book wasn’t very good, or maybe, just maybe, they should have cast French actors, or removed the accents altogether, and put some money in the electricity meter!
Down A Dark Hall is an interesting premise with some good actors, parts of it are wonderfully shot and the sets are glorious, but the bad accents, continuously over-dark scenes and slow-burn make it a forgettable watch.
THE QUICK SELL
A troubled teen named Kit Gordy is forced to join the exclusive Blackwood Boarding School, just to find herself trapped by dark forces around its mysterious headmistress, Madame Duret