CAPSULE: The deep woods holds the secret of a mysterious creature that moves fast and leaves dead bodies around. The narrative suggests it may be an Indian spirit, or it may be a prehistoric creature, or it may be some kind of devil. The story advances deliberately and slowly as a small town sheriff and his deputy investigate what is killing the livestock and citizenry of the secluded town. Jack Heller directs a screenplay by Tyler Hisel. The film is slow, but generally rewarding. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
In the 1960s drive-in theaters' favorite fare was low-budget monster movies, many with lurid and fun titles like ISLAND OF TERROR and TRACK OF THE MOON BEAST. Most monsters these days are in studio CGI-laden films like JURASSIC PARK. DARK WAS THE NIGHT is a very nice throwback to the 1960s sort of horror film. Even the pacing is pre-STAR-WARS style and unhurried as we get to know the characters like we would have in a 1960s horror film. None of the actors is familiar, but the acting is top-notch and they are worth spending some time with.
Perhaps inspired by the style of M. Night Shyamalan's SIGNS, this is a film very strong on suspense and mystery, generous with hints and loose ends, but very stingy with the answers to the secrets it holds. There is (or may be) something stalking around Maiden Woods, an isolated town, possibly in the Pacific Northwest. We do not know what it looks like, where it came from, or even if it is real. But whatever it is it is deadly to animals and people. Sheriff Paul Shields (played by Kevin Durand) with his deputy Donny Saunders (Lukas Haas) track down the source of the killings, but always too late to save lives and the citizens of Maiden Woods are starting to wonder if they need a new sheriff. This is all happening while Shields is sorting out his life, battling demons literally and perhaps figuratively. He is separated from his wife over his mourning of the loss of one of his two sons in a swimming pool accident, blaming his own negligence for the death. His other son is tired of his parents being separated. That is a surprisingly heavy subplot that is just being used to characterize his main character.
The script is bleak and virtually humorless giving the film a dour atmosphere. Outdoor scenes are nearly colorless and washed in blue tint. Scenes in the bar are in reds and yellows. It almost gives the effect of monochrome. The color pallet is kept very narrow to preserve the grim mood.
Borrowing a page from Hitchcock's THE BIRDS, any explanation the characters suggest for what is really going on in the town sounds really hokey. So then what is really going on? Visual and script clues intentionally mislead the viewer to preserve suspense. Even the title tells the viewer frustrating little of the film's content.
The real subject of DARK WAS THE NIGHT is not the whatever-it-is that is doing all the killing. The film is a study of people in fear and a study of guilt in a man who needs the help of the people around him if he is ever going to let go of his regrets. The characters and their attitudes are more than just the mortar to hold the horror scenes together. This was a slow film, but credible and involving. Good luck in figuring what is out there in the dark of night. I rate DARK WAS THE NIGHT a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. DARK WAS THE NIGHT will be in theaters, and on VOD and iTunes July 24, 2015
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2251281/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/dark_was_the_night/
Mark R. Leeper Copyright 2015 Mark R. Leeper