Summer horror is scarce, and James Wan dominates it, producing this jump-scare flick directed by David F. Sandberg. The story strays away from the issue of mental health though it skirts around it, and pushes more towards the gimmick scare of the dark. The issue with a film that relies on darkness is that viewers still have to see it, so the screen can never go pitch black leading to some confusing.
Martin (Gabriel Bateman) is a young boy stuck with his mother Sophie (Maria Bello) as she copes with her manic moods. Bateman delivers the best performance as a young actor, he's the smartest character and shares his terror with the audience. The older sister Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) is dragged into the family's traumas and she starts to investigate her mother's strange behavior with the help of her boyfriend Bret (Alexander DiPersia).
The investigation uncovers Diana (Alicia Vela-Bailey), the dark specter that appears whenever the lights go out and someone tries to helps Sophie with her struggles. The sudden appearance of the haunting Diana will have plenty of viewers screaming out, and I never grew tired as she popped unexpectedly throughout, but the rules didn't totally make sense and would hardly stick up under scrutiny. She did cast a haunting image and her creaking limbs and wood scratching added an audible sense of dread.
The film does rely on the horror cliches of characters walking into danger despite knowing there is a supernatural entity, doors shutting and locking inexplicably, and loud sounds going unnoticed. Horror fans could be pleased with the quick and easy story but the level gore is hindered by a PG-13 rating.
Playing in the dark was plenty fun, and I enjoyed major portions of it, jumping in my chair several times. I went on a packed night when plenty of young kids screamed and giggled throughout. I'd be curious to see how this film plays out at the box office as counterprogramming to the geeky sci-fi Star Trek, and the dearth of horror that pops up in theaters. The standards are low for the genre so this film gets a pass and decent reviews.