In addition to their busy schedule of theatrical releases (Get Out, Happy Death Day) and straight-to-non-theatrical material (the Creep movies, which are excellent), Blumhouse has a commitment to deliver thirteen short features a year to Hulu in a slot/series called Into the Dark. These haven’t had much international play – this, the first episode of season two, is the first I’ve seen of them. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Alan and James Bachelor script were kicked around as a possible theatrical movie, then retooled for the skein thanks to being upstaged by a bunch of other game-related horror films (Ouija, Beyond the Gates, Game of Death) … though the fact that Blumhouse gave a cinema platform to Truth or Dare shows they aren’t afraid to mix the utterly generic in with their regular fare.
It’s Halloween, and the anniversary of the still-mysterious death of Tony (Avery Bagenstos), one of a friend group, who drowned in a puddle. So the college-age gang get together in Halloween costumes but don’t do anything elaborate, just hang out and play games (‘Tony loved games’) in a house that’s the film’s single location. Things become even more confined when they play the obviously creepy ‘Uncanny Annie’ game and the house is transported to a black limbo out of a budget-saving 1960s Doctor Who episode or that Dead of Night episode ‘The Exorcism’ as the kids turn over cards, suffer through challenges or ‘mischief’, and are tormented by low-cost phenomena like ‘the Prankster’ (Camden Toy), a grinning old man, or get bothered by Annie Herself (Karlisha Hurley), who comes on like the evil sister of Carol Kane from Scrooged. She overdoes the crickneck, giggles and mad-eyed stare, but that’s just as well since the rest of the cast (Adelaide Kane, Georgie Flores, Paige McGhee, Jacques Colimon, Dylan Arnold, Evan Bittencourt) get stuck which characters differentiated only by costume (goth vampire, prom queen, etc) and don’t get any more distinctive as the circumstances surrounding Tony’s death come to light in a game of, basically, Truth or Dare.
It’s Scary Jumanji, which is even raised in the clunker dialogue, but doesn’t take advantage of the game format in any distinctive way – Beyond the Gates is much more workable as a game and a plot hook, for instance. Director Paul Davis, who made the Beware the Moon documentary about An American Werewolf in London and an earlier Into the Dark spun off from his short The Body, works very hard with thin material, and the staging is consistently better than the writing or acting. Maybe this is a Tales From the Darkside length idea dragged out against its will to a scarcely-lavish 80 minutes, but Davis gooses it with quite a bit of imaginative cutting, framing and lighting. It’s still a throwaway, but the effort is appreciated.