Back in 1999 writer/director, M.Night Shyamalan introduced audiences to his psychological thriller The Sixth Sense. Starring Bruce Willis (Die Hard) and Haley Joel Osment (Pay It Forward), the film revolved around a boy who could see and communicate with the dead, and like all Shyamalan movies, there is a surprise twist no one saw coming. Imagine over twenty years later 20th Century Studios reworked that thriller and marketed the idea to tween audiences. The result would be the Hulu Original Film, Darby and the Dead. Premiering on the streaming network on December 2, 2022, Darby and the dead takes a lighthearted look at the world of a teenage psychic medium.
When Darby Harper (Riele Downs; Four Brothers) was approximately ten years old she died...briefly. However, once revived, she started seeing dead people; lost souls who needed her help to resolve issues they have on Earth so they can peacefully "cross over". Sadly, Darby's mom didn't survive the accident which caused Darby to become closed off and somewhat of a recluse among her peers. She doesn't care about fitting in and shuns the "popular" girls in high school. However, when one of those popular girls, Capri (Auli'i Cravalho; the voice of Moana) accidentally dies, her ghost stalks Darby until she becomes friends with Capri's crowd and convinces them to hold Capri's previously planned birthday party as a memorial to Capri.
Casting Directors, Bonnie Lee Bouman (Black Beauty), Chelsea Ellis Bloch (Honey Boy), and Marisol Roncali (Deadpool 2) did an exceptional job finding the two lead actresses, Downs and Cravalho, to portray these very different types of high school students. Capri is stuck up and selfish. Darby, once an aspiring cheerleader, is now a wallflower, avoiding most conversations - unless, of course, she is conversing with those who are no longer living - and simply blending into the background. These young women play their stereotypical characters perfectly. They also have great chemistry and play off each other well. Other standouts amongst the cast include Chosen Jacobs (It) as a new, transfer student who has the same abilities as Darby, and veteran actor, Tony Danza (Who's the Boss?) as Gary, a Spirit who is a "stayer" (someone who doesn't want to cross over yet because he is waiting for his wife to pass).
Darby and the Dead offers some serious moments wrapped in a light-hearted hard candy shell. There are the typical teen movie tropes and snarky comments about fashion and the "dorks" in high school. Of course, there is the obligatory "rager", a high school party to end all parties and a moral lesson to be learned that is all wrapped up in a nice neat bow. The mean girl learns to be nice and the quiet girl becomes more outgoing and both learn to be less judgmental.
While the writing is good, if not, predictable, the costume and set designs are well done. It would be impossible to be one of the most popular girls in school who, after death, tries to makeover the school hermit into a popular girl unless there are some excellent wardrobe choices made. Costume Designer Moira Anne Meyer (Beast) nails the clothing from start to finish.
Darby and the Dead takes a somewhat comical slant to the topic of psychic medium abilities. I have no doubts tweens will love the film enhanced by some decent music. However, the underlying themes are tried and true and unfortunately not original. If you go in with low expectations, you may come out the other end having spent less than two hours reliving your younger years and remembering those cheesy movies you watched before you became a full-fledged adult.