Review: Down a Dark Hall
by Alfonso Rivera
- Rodrigo Cortés delivers a somewhat bothersome adaptation of the Lois Duncan novel of the same name, starring cult American actress Uma Thurman
"Adolescence is a wonderful but also a terrible time in our lives. It’s the moment when a person decides, for the most part, who he or she wants to be for the rest their lives. Everything is terrifying, everything is unknown; we have so many questions but not much in the way of answers. The world as we know it is suddenly transformed into a hostile environment," explains Galician filmmaker Rodrigo Cortés, who we met a few days ago upon the release of his fourth film, Down a Dark Hall [+see also:
film profile], a co-production between Spain and the USA. Filmed in English with American actresses, the movie is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by the late Lois Duncan, and explores the conflicts, struggles, and shades of light and dark which accompany the tumultuous transition from adolescence into adulthood… and all that is lost to us in the process.
The film is swamped with special effects, developed under the supervision of Alex Villagrasa. Cortés stresses the efforts made by the crew to ensure the fire we see in the movie is real and not computer generated, which complicated the filming process somewhat: the team spent half the shoot wearing protective masks to stop them breathing in toxic fumes. Their approach does, however, create a definite charged atmosphere in the unique setting where the action unfolds: namely a boarding school set apart from the rest of the world, which welcomes a small group of pupils – young girls who have been selected for their artistic qualities and talents – and which is ruled over by a very strict headmistress, to whom a glacial Uma Thurman lends her unmistakably angular features.
Unfortunately, the film is overloaded with noise, hysteria and rage which, though well aligned with the painful stage of life these girls are going through, tend to exhaust through their excesses (a marked departure from the simplicity Cortés opted for in his acclaimed film Buried [+see also:
interview: Rodrigo Cortés
film profile]). The same goes for the plot (written by Michael Goldbach and Chris Sparling), which tends towards over-elaboration, accumulation and repetition, leaving scant room for insinuation, sophistication or onirism - key features, by contrast, of two other films, similar in terms of their theme and gothic spirit: namely The House That Screamed by Chicho Ibañez Serrador and Picnic at Hanging Rock by Peter Weir.
Down a Dark Hall was shot in the Blackwood residence, which lends the film its Spanish title, and which was created by set designer Victor Molero : “We made everything on the film set in a number of studios: the two-storey vestibule, the hallways, all the bedrooms, the ballroom, the floor tiles, all the mouldings and each and every doorknob," enthuses Cortés. Ultimately, these production efforts leave more of an impression than any of the artistic elements of this genre film, which is no different from its Hollywoodian contemporaries, also aimed at capturing the attention of a younger and less exacting audience.
Down a Dark Hall was produced by Nostromo Pictures, Temple Hill Entertainment and Fickle Fish Films, with the participation of Atresmedia Cine and Movistar+. It will be released in Spain on 3 August, courtesy of Entertainment One.
(Translated from Spanish)
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