How far would you go to preserve the legacy of great minds? Director Rodrigo Cortés attempts to answer this in his humdrum adaptation of the 1974 young adult novel Down a Dark Hall. Troubled teen Kit (AnnaSophia Robb) is shipped off to the elite Blackwood Boarding School to outgrow her penchant for arson. There, she’s joined by a handful of interchangeable young women who are equally disturbed. The five delinquents find themselves under the tutelage of the serene, gothic headmistress (a scenery-chewing Uma Thurman), who wants to unearth talents hidden within each of them. Slowly, the girls trade misbehavior for as-yet undiscovered skills like painting, composing and solving complex theorems. But as they cultivate their newly found genius, the girls begin to hear mysterious voices. Kit takes it upon herself to find out what’s happening to the crew — and what’s up with their bizarre teachers, who are hell-bent on making sure the teens are channeling their prodigious gifts.
Cortés captures the students’ passionate flurry of newfound creativity in one frenetic, transfixing scene that reveals their increasing mental instability in this strange school. However, Cortés’ adaptation unnecessarily veers from the source material, adding shocks that weren’t in Lois Duncan’s already unsettling source. Cinematographer Jarin Blaschke stages suspenseful shots, but half the film is swathed in so many shadows that it’s difficult to discern what’s actually happening onscreen. Ultimately, Down a Dark Hall falls victim to familiar teen horror tropes: a brooding lead with a heart of gold, predictable jump scares, wincingly bad romantic tension, and obvious villains.
Down a Dark Hall
Directed by Rodrigo Cortés
Opens August 17, AMC Empire 25
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