DARK WAS THE NIGHT (2014)
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I remember reading a supposedly true story when I was a little kid called The Devil Walked In Devon about the citizens of a snow covered English town in 1855 awaking to find a trail of cloven hoof footprints leading all through the village and neighboring towns, then stopping suddenly as if the maker vanished into thin air. As a kid, the story spooked me and stayed with me. I was delighted then to see that screenwriter Tyler Hisee cleverly incorporated that chilling tale in his story of a mysterious creature stalking a remote town.
As the film opens, we see the death of some logging crew members and then are taken 90 miles south to the remote town of Maiden Woods, whose population is well below 300. We are introduced to emotionally troubled sheriff, Paul Shields (Kevin Duran) who is suffering the effects of the accidental death of one of his young sons. He blames himself. His wife, Susan (Bianca Kajlich) has moved out and his other son, Adam (Ethan Khusidman) is caught in the middle. Soon, martial problems are the least of his worries as pets are disappearing and the usually abundant wildlife has all but fled the area. One morning, a trail of strange cloven footprints is found making it’s way through the entire town and paranoia begins to spread. Something is stalking the town of Maiden Woods, something vicious, strong and very hungry. Now it’s up to Shields and his transplanted New York deputy (Lukas Haas) to stop the mysterious creature before it begins to feed on the only source of food left…the citizens of Maiden Woods.
Directed by Jack Heller from Hisee’s script this is an atmospheric and spooky little movie that smartly keeps it’s mysterious monster in the dark for most of the film. It’s a slow burning horror/thriller in a time of rapid pace and the film benefits from it, as we get to know the characters and care about them as the threat looms and grows. Heller never lets us forget there is something formidable in the surrounding woods and we are constantly treated to spooky close calls with it, as well as, the effects of it’s nocturnal visits. He builds the tension slowly till we are treated to a tense final act with the desperate townsfolk huddled in a church during a snow storm with a creature lurking outside. If the film has any flaws, and it has a few, it’s that the ending could have been a bit more intense, with a little more cat and mouse inside the large church and when we finally see our fiend, the brief CGI is less than convincing. It’s a bit of a disappointment as we’ve been treated to shots of prosthetic limbs throughout, but the full creature is only moderately successful computer generation. It doesn’t drag the film down too bad as Heller has given his creature a formidable personality, it just didn’t have the impact it needed. Adding to the look and feel of the film are Ryan Samul’s atmospheric cinematography and Darren Morze’s moody score, which help us ease past those flaws a bit.
We get a solid cast here, too. Durand, usually known for supporting roles, is a fine and humanly flawed hero. His Paul has both a strength and an obvious sadness than makes him endearing and refreshingly vulnerable. Haas makes a likable Deputy Donny. He’s a bit of a fish out of water being a former NYC cop, who came to Maiden Woods to escape his own personal pains and he is a loyal partner for Shields. Bianca Kajlich is also fine as the wife who has lost a child and is maybe running away from the fact that she is loosing her husband too, to grief. She and Durand have a nice chemistry onscreen so we believe the emotions of their strained relationship. We also get some solid support from indie horror fixture Nick Damici (Stake Land, Late Phases) and Skateland‘s Heath Freeman as town locals.
This was an enjoyable monster flick with some nice atmosphere and chills from director Jack Heller. The script from Tyler Hisee cleverly incorporates a real life spooky folk tale in it’s story which helps build the sense of foreboding. The climax could have used a bit more intensity and the creature’s final unveiling could have had more impact but, it’s a little horror flick with it’s heart and chills in the right place. A fun and spooky movie.