Movie Review: Dark Was the Night
A movie can end up skipping the box office for many reason. Sometimes the production budget is too small to make a meaningful press campaign. Sometimes the film is part of a niche genre that rarely fares well at the movie theaters. And sometimes, dear friends, it is because the film just plain sucks. Dark Was the Night is unfortunately in this last category: a listless monster movie that is afraid to show you the creature (for good reason!) and so dawdles on a boring family drama while pretending it is creating tension by constantly avoiding any action.
Dark Was the Night (2015)
Sheriff Shields (Kevin Durand) is a small town lawman in Maiden Woods, a fictional town set someplace in northern New York State which is extremely isolated. Besides dealing with drunks and poachers, the sheriff’s main problem lies in putting the death of his youngest son behind him. Helping him in his rounds is a young transfer from New York City (Lukas Haas) who has his own personal demons, which tend to direct him to the nearest watering hole to find relief in a bottle. One day, the mundane life of the town is shattered when livestock goes missing and mysterious hoof prints are found throughout the town from an unidentifiable creature that apparently likes to peep into people’s windows.
As the body count increases and a storm threatens to completely cut off the town, the two lawmen must make a decision about how best to protect their citizens while dealing with a creature who is becoming bolder in its raids upon the town.
The major problem hampering this classic “monster in a small town” set-up is the glacial pacing of the film. Despite starting off with a gory bang, the film proceeds to meander through small town life for the better part of its run time, tripping over cliches as it goes. The town is inhabited by a only a dozen souls, and each one you’ve seen a hundred times before: the sex pot counter girl, the delinquent young redneck, the ineffectual priest, and even a helpful Native American bar tender who happens to have the old legends handy just when needed to slow-drip out the premise of the monster. Most exasperating was the school marm, an uptight matronly figure (at the ripe old age of 30 it would seem) who tries to inject the film with levity by making a stink over kids using the word pecker. The only thing funny about the scene is how aggressively predictable it is.
In contrast to the one dimensional towns folk, our two lawmen are draped in layers of false mystery. The sheriff is in the middle of a trial separation from his wife and surviving son over the death of his youngest son. It’s an interesting premise…which the script draws out like some grand mystery and then belabors for an hour once this shocking information is revealed. A brief subplot of the sheriff actually seeing his deceased son is toyed with and then abandoned, leading to nothing whatsoever that advances the narrative. Likewise, the deputy has a drinking problem due to an unspecified issue from his past…which again leads nowhere and is clownishly “resolved” when the deputy declines a drink near the end of the film and claims he has quit. Thanks for that harrowing look into alcoholism!
One would suppose all of the inscrutable private drama for these two characters exists to explain why these officers are so exceptionally bad at police work. The sheriff broods his way through the whole film, half halfheartedly poking his flashlight at crime scenes and wandering into clear danger without his weapon. He does nothing to stop the spread of rumors about the creature despite believing it to be a prank. Why not just announce it was a prank then? Or a bear? Or say anything other than “I dunno” which causes the townspeople to piss themselves in terror? When evidence mounts against a human prankster, the sheriff pulls out his “jump to conclusions” mat and decides to believe a laughable internet rumor about a cryptozoological creature called a Windiga. Top notch detective work!
Where’s the Beef?
Dark Was the Night is a horror movie, and people are expected to be morons in these films. An allowance could be made if these brain dead periods allowed for excitement. We want the campers to wander off illogically so we can see the killer indulge in some gruesome kills! This film manages to skimp on the monster in every possible way, and to have one of the paltriest body counts for a horror film I can remember. After an hour of the monster playing footsy, apparently too wary of humans to directly attack them when they have their back turned, alone, in the middle of the woods at night, we get a handful of kills that all happen off camera. Despite the beast braving loud machinery to kill humans who are hiding in their vehicles at the very outset of the film, suddenly the creature is too shy to show itself. Perhaps it is scared of being called ugly…which it is.
The creature in Dark Was the Night would be considered a cheesy failure by late-night SYFY channel standards. Obvious costume work of grasping hands and cloven feet all try to keep interest in the creature alive in ways where the film doesn’t have to show how poorly rendered and ugly the CG creature actually is. The big climactic reveal is a complete bust, since after so long waiting for an awesome creature (it must be great if they’re hiding it so hard, right?) the first reaction is to laugh out loud at it. Seriously, the creature looks like it was modeled on the Hunter creatures from Resident Evil 1…and rendered on a Playstation 2 to boot.
Back to the Woods
There is almost nothing to recommend Dark Was the Night. The story is silly and full of dull cliches, the characters are flat and boring (and with the exception of Lukas Haas’s deputy, pretty poorly acted,) and the monster in the film is a complete joke. The movie is just poorly made, despite having professionally competent cinematography. The dialogue is delivered in such grumbling tones I had to turn on closed captioning to understand a single word Kevin Durand was muttering as he continually gave the same listless look at the camera. Apparently that is what grief is supposed to look like. The setting is generic to the point of farce: the mega storm that closes down the town is shown in clips where we see *gasp!* literally centimeters of snow covering the road! Really? There isn’t a school in the country that would shut down for such a paltry flurry!
So many flaws constantly pull you out of any tension, its impossible to ignore them and try to get any pleasure from the experience. I don’t know what exec sweet talked their way into getting a VOD release for this project, because it is clearly not worth the four dollars I paid. This creature-feature seems to labor under the delusion that the opposite of action is suspense. The opposite of action is inaction, and the opposite of suspense is boredom, and this film has plenty of both to go around.