the darkness (2016): bad characterization of Autistic characters ft. Kevin Bacon

every time i think of this movie my brain’s like ‘its the one with Gary Busey right’ but it turns out to be Kevin Bacon

The darkness is a film that should’ve gone straight to Netflix. It was extremely undeserving of a theatrical release, and, three years after it’s debut, I am still outraged that I spent thirteen of my hard earned dollars on this waste of ninety minutes. 2016 was the year that gave us masterpieces like Train to Busan, The Autopsy of Jane Doe, and The Conjuring Two; I mean, every year has their share of hits and flops but…normally the flops go straight to streaming sites.

The problem that is Mikey

So the nitty gritty: the movie focuses on a nuclear family, that start off their ‘harrowing’ tale during a trip to the grand canyon. We learn that their young son, Mikey, is autistic, and he accidentally unleashes an ancient, nondescript Indigenous evil by stealing a rock. Spooky scary things happen; ghosts turn on some tap water and kill grandma’s cat, fuck up the walls, overall cause chaos before they are inevitably defeated, blah blah blah. But I’d like to focus on the movie’s treatment of one character in particular–the autistic son, Mikey.

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So, there’s a whole lot of things they did wrong with this character, but this one was the most unintentionally hilarious; just by virtue of being Autistic, the movie claims that he can see the ghosts and other supernatural things.

In fact, when the spooky is in full swing, the mother looks up Autism and it’s connection with ghosts and spirits and shit. When she’s presenting her argument to her husband, Mikey’s father, she also says something incredibly stupid, along the lines of “Mikey’s autism is manifesting itself via ghost vision”.

It’s not exactly that, but it’s fucking stupid.

Kevin Bacon is a bad father

The spooks start coming and they don’t stop coming until mikey nearly burns the house down, after which Dad Kevin Bacon gives probably the worst monologue about his disabled son that I’ve ever heard:

“He [Mikey] is scaring me,” keep in mind, Bacon is a fully grown man talking about an 11-13 year old child, his child, “look, I can handle the counting, I can handle the forts in the living room, the damn toys, I never get tired of stepping on them, but I draw the line at starting fires. He’s getting dangerous. Why can’t you see that?”

Like, alright, I guess that immediately going to supernatural forces does seem farfetched, but it’s also kind of a stretch to immediately blame your disabled son who has literally never shown violent tendencies up until that point?

And what’s even more hilarious and transparent is that at one point, it is revealed that the daughter, Steph, has an eating disorder, which is super crucial to this movie about Indigenous spirits threatening to take over the world and plunge it into darkness.

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There’s even a scene where Steph is shown to be physically violent; she attacks her parents when they discover her eating disorder. The family is more then willing to help her, and they even take her to a clinic seemingly the same night, or in a short time frame, so she can recover. they are completely unable to extend those same sympathies to their disabled son.

In fact, they are more willing to regard him as dangerous first, and imply very, very subtly that it might be time to ‘do something’ about him—possibly sending him away, so they won’t have to deal with him anymore. So Dad thinks he’s dangerous, his own sister calls him creepy and weird and wants nothing to do with him, and his mom believes he’s possessed by demons.

back to the darkness that is The Darkness

More spooky shit, people of color come in to save the asses of these white people, and Mikey ends up setting everything right by…placing the stones that he took in a different order. What a hero.

This movie was boring and stupid and offensive, and if they would’ve just scrapped Mikey’s character completely, it would’ve been just boring and stupid.

But this film particularly pisses me off because not only does Mikey has very little independence of his own, but they use his disability as an excuse to keep him mystical, strange and something that the audience can blame for as the family is terrorized, because he becomes the catalyst for the Indian demons to haunt this poor family.

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They paint him as scary, dangerous, someone that cannot be easily understood (such is the case with certain people who live with autism) and therefore inviting the paranormal in.

The defining aspect of Mikey’s character is that he is autistic; we don’t know if he’s smart, or likes crossword puzzles, or what is favorite food is or what he does in his spare time—just that his condition causes great distress on his family.

And all that seems to matter is the way it affects his family, and not Mikey himself. So this film is extra shit. If you’re thinking about watching this one day…do yourself a favor and go do literally anything else.