Director – Jack Heller
Cast – Kevin Durand, Lukas Haas, Steve Agee, Ethan Khusidman, Nick Damici, Billy Paterson, Heath Freeman, Sabina Gadecki
Release Year – 2015
Reviewed by John of the Dead
What lured me to Dark Was the Night was its inclusion of actor Nick Damici. He is solid in every effort I have seen him in, and as a fan of creature horror this is a film I had to see. The sophomore effort of Jack Heller, the film excels on several levels, including atmosphere and acting. It was the level of horror that holds it back in the end.
When a logging company forces a mythical creature from its centuries-old home, Sheriff Paul Shields must protect the residents of Maiden Woods when it makes itself at home and begins hunting for food.
The story begins with the logging company doing what they do and suffering some employee casualties when the creature senses it is being threatened. Now set in Maiden Woods, we follow Paul Shields (Kevin Durand; “The Strain”, Resident Evil: Retribution, Legion, The Echo) and his newly hired deputy Donny Saunders (Lukas Haas; Lady in White, Mars Attacks, Brick, Inception) as they try and keep their town at ease. There are strange occurrences happening, where pets are going missing and mysterious footprints are seen in the snow throughout town. The state wildlife authority has said it is impossible for such hooved prints to show in a bipedal pattern, which leaves the townsfolk rumoring that an ancient Native American legend, the Wendigo, has arrived. Paul wants nothing to do with such foolish talk, but soon enough the horror reaches his doorstep and he is forced to admit the reality of the situation. Battling his own personal demons, he must step up and protect the town whose residents’ only hope is that he and his one other deputy can keep them safe.
Tyler Hisel’s story is heavy in development. It moves slowly but provides just enough horror to keep you engaged. From the missing animals to the spooky footprints seen outside of people’s bedroom windows, the tease of what is to come was enough to keep me going. We get very few glimpses of the creature, but are at least treated to several kills until the final stand. I loved that he included a strong snowstorm that forces the remaining survivors to take refuge in a church and pray they survive the night, as a dozen wildlife rangers will arrive in the morning to kill the beast. Of course, the beast has no intention of sitting idly by as they wait out the storm, and forces an intense battle where its victims are left in a nowhere-to-run scenario.
Heller’s direction is what keeps the piece going. He expertly brings the story to life and provides good tension without having to show very much. I keep thinking of the chills I got when it was revealed that the creature’s prints can be found all over town. It’s a simple technique that was both written and directed to near-perfection. The kills seen are a bit tame thanks to the creature being so fast, but again, with good direction you shouldn’t be bothered by it. It takes a long while before we finally see the creature, and while I dug the look it did appear a bit “cheap”. It comes mostly via CGI, and it was of an unfavorable quality. This is most likely a result of budgetary constraints, but it is an issue nonetheless. It is because of this that the film receives a 6 rating and not a 7. Had the creature been more effective and not a little silly then it would have left a better impression. Heller does succeed with the acting performances, especially from lead Kevin Durand and Nick Damici, who maybe has 20 minutes of screen time. I also really enjoyed the atmosphere, where barren snowy landscape leaves you feeling that even during the day the characters are not safe. This atmosphere is improved at night, where the creature has pitch black woods to use to its benefit, and eventually, dark shadows within the structures it pins its victims in.
Overal, Dark Was the Night is a visually engaging piece with good tension but the payoff is a bit tame. I wanted more, but you may feel differently. This is one of those flicks that leaves me on the fence about whether I’d recommend it, so I say check it out for yourself.