Dark Entities Movie Review

Written by Kat Albrecht

Released by Terror Films

dark entities poster large

Written and directed by Brandon McLemore
2023, 159 minutes, Not Rated
Released on April 14th, 2023

Elena Ontiveros as Vera Winters
Brandon McLemore as Wes Winters
Jackson Lee Turner as Ethan Winters

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The trailer for Dark Entities made it clear that I was either about to discover a lovable tropey gem of a haunted house film (see 2011’s The Selling) or a zero-calorie version of The Conjuring. Unfortunately, the lack of a storyline coupled with paltry visual effects makes this film a less-than-prime piece of real estate.

In director Brandon McLemore’s Dark Entities, we follow the story of the Winters siblings, who move into a grand house after the death of their parents. Set in 1977 (coincidentally the same year as The Conjuring 2), this era flick sees them pour their entire inheritance into fixing up the place only to find they are not alone. Throw in an antiques dealer and a professor of the paranormal who has visions of the dead and we have ourselves a movie.

I have a notoriously low bar for what constitutes a sufficient plot. Seriously, the plot of Sand Sharks is “There are sharks in the sand, let’s party.” and that made my Top 10 Shark Movies list. But when it comes to Dark Entities, two hours is a really long runtime for a serious film without a plot.

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Generously, the plot of the movie is: parents die from something, and siblings move into this house for some reason, which is haunted by a guy. There really aren’t any subplots of interest, there is very little lore or background, and honestly, not much happens haunting-wise. The film is not very creative in its story, nor does it acknowledge that its retrodding familiar ground in the genre. There is no relationship growth, there are no jokes, and the characters are so general that it would be difficult to say they really even embrace horror tropes. And this is nothing against Dark Entities, but this is the second film in a row I’ve reviewed where a super spooky box has a haunted ring in it. And once again, neither the box nor the ring is spooky in any way. In fact, the box literally looks like it’s from a Dollar Tree rather than being a cursed antique.

Dark Entities also has a setting problem. The house that constitutes the primary filming location is extremely pleasant and cozy, but they just sort of pretend it isn’t. It’s freshly painted, lovely art, in wonderful condition. Now, I do not know if there was a line in the contract about not moving furniture, but lord have mercy. They seem completely unwilling to damage anything in the house to the point that it seems to put constraints on the movie. For example, the absolute scariest thing that could happen to a person in this film is getting pulled part of the way under a bed. This happens more than once and honestly is very funny. But similar to other things in the movie, I don’t think it’s funny on purpose.

There are also some extremely bizarre dialogue segments that are jarring and awkward. In the first few minutes, elder sibling Vera (Elena Ontiveros) shows her younger brother Ethan (Jackson Lee Winters) a photo OF THEMSELVES and asks if he recognizes the people in it. I thought maybe they were setting up Ethan, who looks about 11 in the film, to have some sort of memory problem. But nope, Ethan just replies, “Of course silly,” and names the siblings in the photo. I understand this is supposed to introduce the audience to the characters. But just like another sequence where brother Wes really awkwardly goes, “Hey sis!” to establish Vera is his sister, it doesn’t seem like a thing real people would say.

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Storytelling continuity problems also plague the movie in ways that make the plot confusing. For example, at one point the siblings ask if they can simply destroy the haunted ring, to which the ghost experts say they should not, because that would make things worse. 10 minutes later, the sole focus of the film is destroying the ring with a pickaxe. In another example, they work really hard to get the ring off Wes (Brandon McLemore), then just pop it back on to test something during the world’s most G-rated séance.

But without a doubt, the most absurd thing that happens in this entire film – for no reason – is when Vera is giving the ghost experts a tour of the house. She takes them upstairs where they stand outside the door of the haunted attic. Vera tells the experts they don’t go in there and without having keys, they’ve secured the door the best they can. Next, the professor of the paranormal lifts up a crocheted blanket they had laid on the floor in front of the door. Yes, you read that right. They have secured the door to the attic not by pushing a table in front of it or nailing a board over the door. They laid a blanket in front of it. In a less serious film, this would be objectively hilarious, but I really don’t think it was supposed to be funny.

It’s difficult to tell if the problem is the script or the chemistry or comfort of the actors. Okay, I’m just going to say it. This entire movie is like watching an episode of Siblings or Dating. I really like the idea of siblings instead of a more traditional couple plus a child, but the energy in the film is very weird. The older main actors do not play off each other well, and they are so devoid of familial connection, it makes it awkward to watch.

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The film also doesn’t have any practical effects of note. I don’t mean this critique to suggest I require copious buckets of blood and extreme kills in all my movies – but this movie doesn’t have jokes or a plot either, so more effort on the effects side really could have livened things up. Alternatively, maybe the ghostly figures could have looked less like still-alive regular people. I understand putting sheets over children to avoid massacring kids on screen, but they looked like they were going trick-or-treating in the ‘80s.

Perhaps the biggest sin of them all is the movie doesn’t know when to end. In my viewing of the film, I thought it was ending about twice, but it wasn’t. Fake-out endings can be cool in a ‘didn’t see that coming’ way, but this is more of an ‘oh this scene still isn’t over.’ Dark Entities could have really benefited from slashing about 40 minutes off its run-time and deleting some of the sequences that betray the clumsier dialogue and cold acting. With some cuts, this could be a substantially better film.

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Some of the brighter spots in the picture include the inclusion of an antiques dealer Alfred (Philip Neil Parker) and a paranormal professor (Angela Moore). Both side characters bring some spark to the proceedings and seem generally comfortable on camera. There are some nice atmospheric shots, including some glamour shots of vintage cars, and an impressively extensive wardrobe for Vera. There are also some nods to other iconic horror films, with shots paying homage to, among others, The Shining.

Overall, Dark Entities is watchable, but not terribly interesting. It shows some promising flashes but could use an editing eye to make sure the plotline is strong and unnecessary footage stays on the cutting room floor. I would recommend this film to someone who really loves The Conjuring, but has already seen it, refuses to re-watch it, and doesn’t mind this film is significantly worse.

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Movie: Cover

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Kat Albrecht
Staff Reviewer
Kat Albrecht is a legally trained sociologist and computational social scientist studying how complex data can inform policy, with particular emphasis on the nexus of fear, criminal data, and the law. In other words, she’s a college professor who studies horror films sometimes. Her research specialties are practical special effects, creature features, and arguing about the meaning of genre. Kat will gleefully review any film that takes place in the ocean or in outer space and exclusively paints portraits of herself.
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