Higher Learning of the Damned
Chris Kavan - wrote on 10/09/18
Down a Dark Hall features a pretty outstanding cast of young actresses. Both AnnaSophia Robb and Isabelle Fuhrman have excelled in several roles - from heartfelt to horror to huge blockbusters. You have Uma Thurman, no stranger to challenging roles and some exiting newcomers in Victoria Moroles and Taylor Russell. Combined, this mostly female-driven cast (still a rarity among films - let alone thrillers) is the best part about the film.
The story starts off solid - troubled young woman Kit (Robb) has been acting out for years following the death of her father (David Elliot). After going through every option her mother (Kirsty Mitchell) and step-father (Jim Sturgeon) finally decide to send her to an all-girls school, Blackwood, designed to help her with these issue. Upon arriving a day early, Kit meets with the mysterious headmistress Madame Duret (Thurman) and isn't exactly sold on the idea. This is compounded when she learns her entire class is made up of just four other girls, firebrand Veronica (Victoria Moroles), quiet Sierra (Rosie Day), friendly Izzy (Fuhrman) and uninterested Ashley (Russell). Things get worse when Madame Duret takes their cell phones and also tells them the isolated mansion has no Internet - or pretty much any modern technology.
The classes are meant to unlock the girls' potential in the arts - with music taught by Jules Duret (son of the headmistress, played by Noah Silver), literature taught by Heather Sinclair (Jodhi May), math taught by Professor Farley (Pip Torrens) and art taught by Madame Duret herself. If any of the girls decide to get out of line, Mrs. Olonsky (Rebecca Front) serves as the muscle. It isn't long before most of the girls begin to show startling proficiency in each subject - Izzy, despite not passing algebra in school, suddenly becomes a master mathematician, Sierra starts painting amazing artwork, Ashley writes moving poetry and Kit becomes a piano prodigy. Only the angry Veronica seems unmoved and normal. But it isn't long before these talents become obsessions and Kit begins noticing some unnatural things about Blackwood itself.
The film starts off right - introducing the characters, the eerie setting and unsettling talents. Sure, Thurman's accent is a bit much, but otherwise things get off to a good start. Yet the more supernatural elements are introduced, the more jumbled the film gets. And let's face it, the big reveal is a bit of a letdown and the grand finale is a bit of a mess. That being said - it is based on a book (by Lois Duncan), and the overall idea is interesting before devolving into a rushed end. Still, it's a decent enough thriller and it's not too scary for the teen/young adult set and would be a good choice for those dipping their toes into the genre.
I recommend this mainly for the cast - it may not be the film they are going to be known for in the long run, but it still shows off plenty of talent. Plus, it has an interesting enough concept to keep you entertained, which is more than I can say for a lot of under-the-radar horror films.