Troubled young girl Kit (AnnaSophia Robb) is sent to Blackwood Boarding School when her temper gets out of control and her parents can no longer cope with her. Upon arriving at the mysterious school, Kit discovers she is one of a handful of troubled girls attending the school, which is run by Madame Simone Duret (Uma Thurman). Despite being initially reluctant to tow the line, Kit discovers she has a gift for playing the piano but her studies lead her to find out that there’s much more going on at the school than what meets the eye.
Down a Dark Hall has all the ingredients of a good old-fashioned horror but it never really manages to capitalise on them. Taking a lead out of American Horror Story’s most divisive series Coven, the film throws a group of girls into a vast old building where they discover that paranormal activity is taking place, potentially with the knowledge of Madame Duret. As the film tries to move from being eerie into telling a coherent story, it falls down. There’s not a great deal of logic here and even though the film is still fairly enjoyable, you have to ignore the plot to still get satisfaction from it.
Where the film succeeds is under the direction of Rodrigo Cortés, who was responsible for the incredibly effective Ryan Reynolds film Buried. He knows how to frame the sets and draw out the tension in the wafer thin and nonsensical plot. Cortés packs in some decent jump scares but he’s limited due to the nature of the screenplay. When the film finally reveals its hand, you’ll be left asking ‘what the hell?’ rather than marvelling over the cleverness it believes it’s served.
What’s so frustrating with Down a Dark Hall is that it has an incredibly talented cast. AnnaSophie Robb, best-known for Sex and the City prequel The Carrie Diaries, hasn’t yet found a role worthy of her talents while the excellent Noah Silver (Tyrant) is underused as Madame Duret’s son Jules, who becomes a mentor and love interest for Kit. Isabelle Fuhrman, who scared the bejesus out of us in Orphan, is similarly restricted by the material on offer here. Not even the presence of Uma Thurman, who is sporting a dodgy generic European accent, can save the film and you can only wonder why on earth she got involved with it in the first place.
Down a Dark Hall should have been an absolute hoot but the lack of logic makes it pretty disappointing. The performances are decent, although Thurman’s won’t go down among her best, but that isn’t enough to save this half-baked horror. The cast and the director deserved much better than they got here and it’s a real shame. The potential is all there but the finished film is a mess.
Cast: AnnaSophia Robb, Uma Thurman, Victoria Moroles, Isabelle Fuhrman, Taylor Russell, Rosie Day, Noah Silver, Rebecca Front, Pip Torrens Director: Rodrigo Cortés Writers: Michael Goldbach, Chris Sparling Certificate: 18 Duration: 93 minutes Released by: Lionsgate UK Release date: 22nd October 2018