There’s something chilling about thrillers that put a child in jeopardy. And from the minute we meet Hannah (Pixie Davies) in “Out of the Dark,” she’s being menaced.
Her parents (Julia Stiles and Scott Speedman) have just moved with her from London to rural Colombia, where granddad (Stephen Rea) owns and operates the town’s big paper mill. Mom is to manage it while kids’ book illustrator Dad stays at home with Hannah, who looks about five.
“We’re going to be happy here,” Mom opines.
“Of course we will,” Dad chimes in.
But this is a creepy place for kids, starting with this local celebration — “Fiesta de los ninos santos” — Festival of the Saints’ Children. Local urchins are rare, and some seem to run about with their faces swathed in costumes — apparently in tribute to villagers massacred by Conquistadors hundreds of years ago.
Superstitious locals hint that this long ago tragedy is behind the mysterious shadows and faceless gangs of children that go bump in the night around here. The rational Americans scoff, but they’re a little antsy every time Hannah is out of their sight. And she’s always wandering off in the market, into the woods around their huge house, climbing into the old, disused dumbwaiter.
“Out of the Dark” is an old school ghost story, with a supernatural cause-and-effect story and modest and modestly effective effects — watery footsteps, creaking stairs, shadows glimpsed through a window. Director Lluís Quílez and cinematographer Isaac Vila conjure up nothing special in terms of mood-setting lighting or surprise frights.
Stiles has a few moments to get across the terror of losing one’s child, but isn’t that convincing. Speedman is more interested in letting his character come off as under-estimated, a man of hidden resources and courage. There GHOSTS after your kids, guys. Confusion and terror are what we’re looking for.
It’s more a reflection of our jaded, horror-hardened tastes that the film doesn’t manage much more than the occasional hair raising moment. Modern horror audiences still prefer nubile coeds under assault in various stages of undress to ghost stories about supernatural retribution. And frankly, this isn’t “The Orphanage.”
But the kid is cute and we fear for her safety, even as the film reveals its secrets in its pat and seemingly pre-ordained payoff.
MPAA Rating: R for some violence, terror and disturbing images
Cast: Julia Stiles, Stephen Rea, Scott Speedman, Pixie Davies
Credits: Directed by Lluís Quílez, screenplay by Javier Gullón, David Pastor, Alex Pastor. A Vertical Entertainment release.
Running time: 1:32