Down a Dark Hall (Movie Review)

Deep down, every story is a love story: some of us seek the muses in other individuals, while others find passionate inspiration in the arts or sciences. In the brand-new, Stephenie Meyer (Twilight)-produced, Uma Thurman flick Down a Dark Hall, five teenage girls provide the vessels for the ultimate Supernatural muses. Arriving to theaters and On Demand as of Friday, August 17, 2018, thanks to Summit Entertainment/Lionsgate, Down a Dark Hall is a truly haunting, beautifully Gothic tale.

Down a Dark Hall still.

Katherine (AnnaSophia Robb: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory 2005, The Way, Way Back 2013), or Kit, is in a bit of trouble at her high school: in fact, she’s been accused of literally trying to burn the place down. With her mother (Kirsty Mitchell: Barbarians Rising TV documentary 2016, The Hitman’s Bodyguard 2017) believing that Kit is trapped in an “aggressive mental state,” they turn to the only alternative they have found for Kit’s schooling: the mysterious Blackwood Academy, an elite educational institution that focuses on troubled girls with high intellectual promise.

At Blackwood Academy, Head Mistress Madame Duret (Uma Thurman: Pulp Fiction 1994, Kill Bill: Vol. 1 2003) welcomes Kit to the stunning, ivy-covered Edwardian mansion in the countryside. Here, she and her curiously strong assistant, Mrs. Olonsky (Rebecca Front: The Day Today series, The Thick of It series), head up a household that follows a diverse approach to education that is heavily steeped in math, literature, music, and visual art.

The students here are a motley crew of five, including pianist Kit; mathematician Izzy (Isabelle Fuhrman: Orphan 2009, The Hunger Games 2012); artist Sierra (Rosie Day: All Roads Lead to Rome 2015, Outlander series); writer Ashley (Taylor Russell: Before I Fall 2017, Lost in Space series); and all-around troublemaker Veronica (Victoria Moroles: Cloud 9 2014, Teen Wolf series).

Though they initially believe that they have next to nothing by way of similarities, they will quickly learn that they have much more in common than they initially thought. Furthermore, though they arrive feeling entirely un-exceptional in their academic pursuits, as time at the Academy passes, each of the girls seems to discover her own unique talent that possesses her and takes over her entire being. When it becomes clear that these all-encompassing obsessions seem to be leading down a dangerous, psychologically-tenuous rabbit hole, if they want to survive to graduate, the girls will have to come together to solve the great mystery of Blackwood Academy.

Down a Dark Hall still.

Clocking in at 96 minutes in-length, Down a Dark Hall was directed by Rodrigo Cortés (Buried 2010, Red Lights 2012), was written by Michael Goldbach (Daydream Nation 2010, Mary Kills People series) and Chris Sparling (Buried 2010, The Sea of Trees 2015), and is based off the 1974 novel by Lois Duncan. The film also stars Noah Silver (The Borgias series, Tyrant series) as handsome, young music teacher; Jules Duret; Jodhi May (The Last of the Mohicans 1992, The Gambler 1997) as Dr. Sinclair, the English Literature professor; and Jim Sturgeon (’71 2014, Justice League 2017) as Kit’s stepfather.

“A young woman should be at ease among beauty,” quips Madame Duret, a befitting statement for a beautifully-realized film. From its stunningly moody and elegantly-crafted cinematography to its magnificent, Classical musical score by Victor Reyes (Buried 2010, The Night Manager 2016), to Madame Duret’s Zac Posen-created wardrobe, there is absolutely no doubt that Down a Dark Hall is a film that looks exquisite on screen. But is Down a Dark Hall worth its salt beyond its lovely visuals?

That is a mixed bag. The ensemble cast here do excellent work with their eclectic characters, with the always talented Thurman bringing her best to her largely undeveloped character. Madame Duret is not much but a headmistress, a somewhat bizarre one at that, but Thurman injects a class and elegance into the character that makes Duret more haunting than she might have been otherwise. Consider her a kind of evil Miss Peregrine, minus the shape-shifting.

In the lead role of Kit, Robb does a splendid job of traveling across a multitude of lines, from troubled teen to inspired pianist to a kind of rallying leader for the girls. In each facet of her character’s personality, Robb is believable and does the film justice, carrying much of the production’s weight upon her petite shoulders. The other girls – Fuhrman, Day, Russell and Moroles – do solid jobs in their roles, providing ample support for Robb and helping to propel the plot forward. Moroles, in fact, makes for one truly bad-ass bitch!

Down a Dark Hall still.

However, this is where Down a Dark Hall seems to flounder a bit. While the plot is solid enough, it could certainly use some tightening, and there is nothing entirely unique or groundbreaking here as far as scares (though there are a few jumps). The characters – save for Kit – are largely all flat in nature, and we get very little background on any of these girls, how they came to be at the school, or why each girl turns toward her particular artform. The end result is a film that looks absolutely stunning and is enjoyable to watch, but with some further attention to plot details might have truly been a genius work of art. As is so very often the case, you’re likely better off reading the book if it is intelligent story that you seek.

Ultimately, Down a Dark Hall, the film, is wonderfully elegant and cinematically moody, a tale that goes for haunting though it sits upon a fairly weak foundation. Thanks to its exceptional cast and crew, however, the end product is saved and stands as a solid entry into the Supernatural Thriller genre.

Gothically seductive in its visuals, beautifully arresting in its musical score, Down a Dark Hall is absolutely worth a watch, even if it won’t leave you sleeping with the lights on. For these reasons, CrypticRock give Down a Dark Hall 4 of 5 stars.

Summit Entertainment/Lionsgate

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