Thursday, October 6, 2016

Dark Was the Night

Dark Was the Night is a 2014 monster/horror flick that I had never heard of until the other day when it popped up on my Netflix rec list. The description sounded interesting enough, so I decided to check it out. After all, it's October, and the horror movies are rolling at Casa de Rodan this month, as is good and proper.

As it turns out, Dark is a swell little film, which relies mostly on atmosphere, suspense, and character interaction to deliver the chills. On that count, it mostly succeeds. The cinematography is gorgeous and puts you right in the middle of a small town on the edge of a forest, about to be socked in by a snowstorm of epic proportions. Wisely, director Jack Heller relies on suggestive shadows, weird noises, and odd events — such as birds making a massive exodus from the locale — to build suspense, accompanied by an occasional jump scare, which can often be naught but annoying; however, in this case, these instances are relatively few in number, well-timed, and actually integral to the action rather than mere ploys meant to startle the poop out of the unsuspecting viewer. The score (by Darren Morze) and sound effects come together to weave an eerie mood, maintained relentlessly over the course of the film. As far as atmosphere goes, I'd give Dark Was the Night my highest marks.

The story opens with a logging crew clear-cutting a forest, and before you know it, there are missing persons — at least partially missing. In the nearby town of Maiden Woods, people are disturbed by the appearance of strange tracks, apparently belonging to some unknown animal, that go from the woods, all the way through town, and back into the woods, only to disappear. Sheriff Paul Shields (Kevin Durand) and his deputy, Donnie Saunders (Lukas Haas), investigate, but initially take the tracks as the work of a prankster. Soon, however, there are missing animals, bizarre claw marks on buildings, and photographic evidence of something that appears to be anything but an ordinary woodland creature.

Then a trio of hunters in the woods are attacked by said something, which kills two of them. The survivor convinces Shields and Saunders that there is, indeed, something horrible in the woods and it is now lurking around the town. Shields learns about the ill-fated logging crew and surmises that, whatever the creature is, it has been disturbed by the loggers and is on the move in its search for food and shelter. His suspicion is proven correct when the big bad something comes out of the woods and actually attacks his house. It flees into the night before Shields can unload any buckshot into it.

As the snowstorm hits the town, the roads become impassable and most of the townsfolk gather at the central church to ride out the storm together. There's no peace to be found in the house of worship, though, because — once again — an unknown thing comes stomping and banging and bashing in doors to get to the huddled delectables inside. Shields and Saunders herd the townspeople into the basement, which was designed to be a fallout shelter in the 1960s. The two lawmen then go out to face down the oncoming, deadly menace.

Dark is essentially a modernized version of the ubiquitous scary drive-in shows of the 1960s and 70s, such as The Legend of Boggy Creek, The Creature From Black Lake, Sasquatch: The Legend of Bigfoot, and others. The characters are generally well-drawn and better-than-adequately portrayed by the cast. Things do bog down a bit with Sheriff Shields too frequently flagellating himself over having failed to save his son Tim from drowning sometime in the past, but that's really the only stumbling block as far as the characters are concerned. Kevin Durand plays the part capably and comes across as generally sympathetic. There's a hint of romance between Deputy Saunders and exceptionally attractive diner waitress Clair (Sabina Shields), which is given just the right amount of emphasis — it provides Saunders with a bit of motivation without becoming saccharine.

In too many monster movies, what should blow the film out of the water but the monster itself. In this case.... well, that almost happens. The more subtle manifestations of the creature — the footprints, the deep thump of its hoofed feet, the occasional glimpses of movement within the shadows — do it far more credit than its ultimate revelation. The CGI is a little too obvious, the design a little too streamlined. The critter could have been scarier. It should have been scarier.

However, the ending, which again hearkens back to its drive-in forebears, manages to at least partially make up for whatever disappointment might accompany the appearance of the beast's beastly countenance. Then the end credits, with a rousing techno score and images from the film, offer something a little out of the ordinary and close the movie on a positive note.

Unfortunately, Dark Was the Night has enough frustrating issues to prevent it being a great horror movie. Regardless, it's still a good horror movie, with numerous aspects that I must rate as superb.

Four of five Damned Rodan's Dirty Firetinis.
Sheriff Paul Shields (Kevin Durand) and Deputy Donnie Saunders (Lukas Haas)
Strange tracks lead from the woods, through town, and back into the woods.
An inexplicable, mass migration of birds out of the threatened town

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