Tuesday, November 3, 2015

DARK WAS THE NIGHT (2014)



I love horror films about small towns under attack by aliens/monsters/demons/etc., especially if woods are featured (which they usually are). So when I stumbled upon 2014’s Dark Was the Night on Netflix its synopsis of a small-town sheriff battling an evil force from the surrounding woods had my name written all over it. I dove in, honestly not expecting much.
    Surprisingly, I got a fairly decent horror yarn.
     Several members of a logging camp are attacked and killed by a strange creature. Shortly thereafter, a horse belonging to Ron (Billy Patterson) disappears from the town of Maiden Wood, located 90 miles south of the logging camp. Sheriff Paul Shields (Kevin Durand) and Deputy Donny Saunders (Lukas Haas) investigate and conclude that Ron just left his gate open allowing the horse an easy escape. Open-and-shut case. However, strange footprints are seen throughout the town and animals are abandoning the surrounding forest (or eaten if they’re unlucky); it soon becomes apparent that something old, evil, and hungry is lurking in the forest—and its sights are set on the townsfolk of Maiden Wood.
     The story is pretty standard fare, but the filmmakers knew this and instead focused on crafting a solid flick from this well-worn thread. They’re not trying to change the face of horror, just contribute to it. And it’s a pretty solid contribution. The film does a good job balancing human drama with monstrous horrors (as solid horror efforts should), and never oversaturates us with either. The cinematography is great as well, using muted colors and tints to help create a cold and bleak atmosphere. Great camera work and a subtle music score lend the film genuinely tense moments. The filmmakers were smart in only providing hints as to what the creature looks like: a hand shot here, a foot shot there, a quick shot of its entire body as it leaps upon a victim, a blurry photograph there—all ensuring that the viewer will keep watching in hopes of seeing the creature in all its glory.

     But it is the acting helps elevate the film above most flotsam and jetsam populating the horror genre. Kevin Durand is great as Paul Shields. Separated from his wife and blaming himself for the death of his son, Durand perfectly captures the spirit of a cop on the edge. You can practically see the tension floating off him as he goes about his duties, always looking he’s about to snap and lash out with the nearest object at hand. One scene of Shields being questioned by an antagonistic townsman about the investigation is a stand-out: the whole time it looks like Shields just wants to tell the guy to go to Hell—after smashing his face in of course. Lukas Haas is great as the city cop turned small-town deputy. Despite the fact that no one could ever picture Haas as a small-town deputy, let alone a former New York City cop, this only lends itself to his fish-out-of-water character. Nick Damici is here in a small supporting role and is, as usual, enjoyable to watch. Even the one child actor Ethan Khusidman, who portrays Paul’s other son Adam, comes off as believable and non-annoying. In other words, you’ll actually want to see him live.
     Of course, though, no film is without its short-comings, and Dark Was the Night is no exception. The film cops out by reaching into the Bag of Jump Scares enough to bring it down a notch or two and the writing is a bit clich├ęd (an antagonistic character’s “about-face,” the self-blaming cop, the “there’s-something-out-there-so-I’m-gonna-go-take-a-look” trope just to name a few).
     The biggest fault, though, comes in the third act. Throughout the movie we’ve been given brief glimpses of the monster. Of course, horror fans know that we’re gonna be disappointed at the big reveal. No exception here, but this one seriously disappoints and feels like they decided to change the look of the creature at the zero hour. I’m no expert in biology, but I highly doubt that thing would have hooves. Plus, it looks like a tacky monster out of a SyFy Channel original movie. Given when we know about the creature you’d expect something with a bit more pizazz and creativity. Also, while the filmmakers chose to utilize practical effects during their teasing of the creature, resorting to full-blown CGI for the finale snatches away any points they got. Oh, and if you think the film is going to conclude on a happy note, a tacked on ending will throw those expectations right out the window into on-coming traffic. I’m all for bad endings in horror flicks (in fact, they’re practically obligatory), but something as slapped on as this left me feeling cheated.
     While Dark Was the Night is not going to become a modern-day classic and probably not something you’ll be adding to your collection, it’s far superior to most of its mainstream, big-budgeted brethren from the past few years. All told, well-worth 90 minutes of your time. 
Shit, hope this isn't Birdemic invading the movie.

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