Down a Dark Hall Blu-ray Review
Written by Stuart D. Monroe
Blu-ray released by Lionsgate Home Entertanment
Directed by Rodrigo Cortés
Written by Michael Goldbach and Chris Sparling; Based on the novel by Lois Duncan
2018, 96 minutes, Rated PG-13
Released on October 16th, 2018
Uma Thurman as Madame Duret
Noah Silver as Jules Duret
AnnaSophia Robb as Kit Gordy
Isabelle Fuhrman as Izzy
Victoria Moroles as Veronica
Taylor Russell as Ashley
Rosie Day as Sierra
Rebecca Front as Mrs. Orlonsky
Jodhi May as Heather Sinclair
Pip Torrens as Professor Farley
I don’t know about you, but I didn’t have great teenage years. I’ll take that one step further and say that if you know someone who says they did, then you should probably rush them to nearest shrink. It’s an awful time, filled with doubt, embarrassment, out of control emotions, and insane drama…and that’s just for normal teenagers (an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one).
The young women of Blackwood School are about to have it so much worse.
Down a Dark Hall is the story of five teenage troublemakers: Kit (AnnaSophia Robb; Bridge to Terabithia), Izzy (Isabelle Fuhrman; The Hunger Games), Veronica (Victoria Moroles; MTV’s Teen Wolf), Ashley (Taylor Russell; Netflix series Lost in Space), and Sierra (Rosie Day; Starz series Outlander). They’ve been selected to attend the mysterious Blackwood School, a boarding school run by the elegant Madame Duret (Uma Thurman; Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill franchise). Blackwood is an institution of the four pillars of classical education: arithmetic, literature, art, and music. They’re told they each have great gifts within them; they believe they’re simply there as an alternative to prison due to criminal behavior. In this stately old manor, they will discover that Madame Duret is not all she seems to be in her motives, and they are certainly not alone.
Gothic horror is a ripe setting for a supernatural thriller with a PG-13 rating, and director Rodrigo Cortés (Buried) is the right man to adapt Lois Duncan’s coming-of-age novel of gothic terror. His artistic eye and commitment to the aesthetic are on full display in what is otherwise a standard YA tale. All the tropes are here – girls going through changes, budding love (not fully realized), and archetypal troubled characters full of angst.
What sets Down a Dark Hall apart is the skill that the inky gothic palette and flavor are executed with. It’s elevated for something so clearly YA fare and is made with a delicate touch. The score is classical and intense throughout, rising and falling with the story beats. The shadows are deep and the setting (sadly shot on a set and not location) is the proverbial character unto itself. It’s an impressive house, filled with impressive décor and trappings.
Another high point is, of course, Uma Thurman. At this point in her career, she is a brand unto herself. While the French accent is a little jarring at times, she brings a menacing grace to the role of the titular headmistress. There’s a bit of a Hammer sensibility to the overall package, and Thurman pounds that home with her usual flare. As her story unfolds, you see her go from “is she the villain?” to “well, that answers that!”
Still, it is on the lighter side in terms of the terror on display. Down a Dark Hall is most definitely not a horror film, but that shouldn’t detract you embracing what it has to offer. There may not be any blood, but there is plenty of fire (practical effects) and richer-than-average character development. The last act pays off the slow pacing and clichéd setup of the first two with a finish that was more intense and well realized than I was expecting. There’s even a bit of genuine emotional punch.
As long as you bear in mind that you’re getting a PG-13 supernatural thriller overlaid with some of the window dressings of gothic horror, you won’t be disappointed. There’s always a place for artsier fare made by the hand of a real artist.
Video and Audio:
Presented in 2.39:1, it's dark and eerie as a gothic piece should be, and the blacks are richly multilayered. You can hear every creak and groan (along with clear dialogue) with the English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio.
Overall, a top-shelf presentation.
- Deleted Scenes
One single deleted scene is an extension of Kit’s “piano possession” and devolves quickly into a flirty and light-hearted romance push that would have been shockingly out of place. It shows why some scenes are cut.
Welcome to Blackwood: Venturing Down a Dark Hall is a 21-minute-long featurette that is essentially a conversation with director Rodrigo Cortés about his artistic vision for the film. There are brief interview cuts with the young women about their characters motivations and personalities. They also gush about how much they love Uma Thurman (but who doesn’t, really?).