Hype is a two edged sword, it can drive anticipation for a coming film, take it from something that’s just another title on a list of releases and make it into a must see. It can also make a good movie into a disappointing one when the hype builds for to long and becomes something the film just can’t live up to. And then some films just fly under the radar and surprise us, showing up unheralded and delivering an epic surprise, if it doesn’t got lost in the crowd.
Dark Was the Night managed to do a bit of both, it stayed out of the limelight until just a few weeks before release then seemed to be on every horror related site with it’s goosebump inducing trailer creating instant buzz. And since it didn’t drag on for months the hype didn’t build up past what the film could deliver. And what it has delivered is probably the best new release of the year so far.
It starts ominously enough at a logging camp when two workers fail to answer calls from base. When their supervisor drives out he finds their very gruesome remains. He also finds out what did it, but doesn’t live to tell the tale.
Meanwhile 90 miles to the south Sheriff Paul Shields is trying to cope with the accidental death of his young son, something that has caused him to separate from his wife and complicate his relationship with his other son. However when livestock and then people begin to vanish amidst rumors of a strange creature being seen in the woods he has to pull himself out of his grief and protect his family and his town.
Dark Was the Night is another film in the trend started by Spring and Late Phases that puts real life drama at the film’s core and then weaves an equally solid horror film around it. The film is grounded in it’s story of a family in crisis, the Sheriff’s grief and guilt over his son’s death and his attempts to pull himself and his family back together. Grounding the plot in this story makes what happens once the creature shows up more believable as we’ve already bought into the characters and their story. The drama element is well written and feels very sincere never tacked on or melodramatic. It doesn’t hurt that the cast deliver some strong performances, Kevin Durand does a great job as the sheriff, playing against his usual badass villain role and Lukas Haas as his deputy takes a cliché role, (big city lawman relocated to a small town) and makes it into a person we care about. Bianca Kajlich as the estranged wife also shines, and her scenes with Durand have real depth and emotion. Nick Damici who was also in the afore mentioned Late Phases also shines
The creature itself is never explained, it’s just just something that lived in the deep woods until logging drove it out. It looks like Belial from Basket Case locked in a gym with an endless supply of steroids, and in a nice touch has cloven hooves which raises some ideas/expectations as the final confrontation takes place in a church. We don’t get a look at the creature until near the film’s end, just quick glimpses as it moves among the trees or a quickly seen body part. I wouldn’t have minded getting a good look at it a little sooner but overall it works to build tension.
Actually director Jack Heller makes pretty much all the right decisions in what is only his second film in that role after 2011’s Enter Nowhere which I need to pull out of the “to watch” pile and view now. He handles the drama and the horror extremely well and builds the film to a very tense final confrontation which had me at the edge of my seat. Sadly he does diminish that effect with a terribly cliché final shot that really destroys a lot of what we’ve just seen.
I’m giving this one a strong recommendation despite that mistake though.
Currently in very limited theatrical release and available on VOD and iTunes. I saw it via Amazon here:
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