“I Will Follow You Into the Dark” heralds an interesting change in bad movie titling. Perhaps we have finally moved on from stealing song titles from the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, and even ’90s, and commenced thievery from the 21st century. So long, “Something to Talk About,” “Pretty Woman,” and “My Girl”! Hello, “SexyBack,” “Idioteque,” and “Call Me Maybe”! Mark Edwin Robinson’s film turns to Ben Gibbard and Death Cab for Cutie for its title, and that is perhaps the first indicator that this heartbreak-tinged horror film will not be the most original of creations. It attempts to take the genre into a more romantic, spiritual direction, and while it does not succeed — on any level — it deserves credit for the attempt. (Admittedly, “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” is stronger than the film’s original title, “Into the Dark.”)
Mischa Barton stars as — wait, Mischa Barton? From “The O.C.”? Leading the cast of an indie horror flick? In 2013? Anyway, Mischa Barton stars as Sophia, a photographer who, as the film opens, is watching her cancer-stricken father die before her eyes. He implores her to find the profound love he experienced with Sophia’s late mother, but also explains to his daughter that his religious beliefs were a waste: “I need you to consider the possibility that I was wrong about everything I ever taught you” …annnnnnd he’s dead, which is a rather unsettling goodbye for his daughter. The pronouncement shakes Sophia, who declares the following at the old man’s funeral: “He said he was wrong. He was wrong about all of this. And after days of soul-searching, I believe he was right. There are no ghosts or demons waiting for us on the other side. There is nothing.” Perhaps a funeral is not the most opportune time to voice these thoughts, but whatever. “I defy a God of any kind to prove me otherwise,” she adds, for good measure.
Sophia sinks into depression, until a meet-cute with Adam (Ryan Eggold), a likable chap who happens to live in a former state-run convalescent hospital turned apartment building that’s “big with the paranormal crowd.” (Do you have a sense where this is going?) Sophia and Adam grow closer, but she is scared following the loss of her parents: “What happens if I fall in love with you?” she asks. “Everything,” Adam vaguely, unhelpfully offers. Sophia pulls back before finally contacting Adam again, and explaining her reticence. But, well, let’s just say it does not take long until her worst fears are realized.
Adam seemingly disappears, leaving a trail of blood in his wake. The attending not-fer-nuthin’ cop is no help, and the apartment’s doorman/front-desk employee is not much better, asking Adam’s roommate Astrid (Leah Pipes), “You haven’t heard about what goes on up there? It’s infested.” He explains that he last went up to take a look 30 years ago, and has not ventured since, which makes him a rather poor employee. So Sophia, her roommate Sam (Jaz Martin), Astrid, and a friend of Sam’s venture forth into “nightmarish” world dropped in from other, better films.
What is perhaps most surprising is that the film’s first hour, the non-horror section, is far more compelling than the second, an extended, nonsensical haunted hotel sequence that never scares, intrigues, or surprises. (I longed for an appearance from the man-in-dog-suit from “The Shining“). The whole affair runs for at least 20 minutes too long, clocking in at nearly two hours, and it feels it. Davidson’s movie aims for Polanski dread, but instead feels jumbled and weak-kneed — half made-for-Lifetime, half horror-wannabe. Is it aiming to please an audience seeking spiritual romance, or scare junkies? The answer seems to be both, but the film does not successfully work for either set of viewers.
Throughout, Barton is solid and — importantly, considering the ill will her performance on “The O.C.” garnered — likable, while costar Ryan Eggold demonstrates that he is ready for something far more interesting. The stars do what they can with ho-hum material, but despite their best efforts, the result is nowhere near a good film. Despite its lack of success, for Barton, Eggold, and even director Mark Edwin Robinson, the film is not a setback. Robinson’s visuals are strong, and he does bring out the best in the generally wan Barton. The film demonstrates that he and his two stars may have better work ahead of them. But for the time being, they are stuck with “I Will Follow You Into the Dark.” If we are going with Death Cab titles, perhaps “A Lack of Color” would be more appropriate. [D+]