What’s it About?
An evil is unleashed in a small town when a logging company sets up shop in the neighboring woods.
“Dark was the Night”
Directed by Jack Heller
Written by Tyler Hisel
I have never been one to shy away from indulging in a creature feature here and there. Since I was a wee pain in my mother’s ass, I have always enjoyed monsters. Of all varieties, mind you. Vampires, Wolf-men, revived cadavers and let’s not forget the big irradiated lizards that were prone to destroying whole cities underfoot. After I became a dad and my kids started to get into monster flicks, too, I began to re-visit the classics with them and enjoyed watching them have as much fun as I did at their age. But with so many numerous monster films in abundance nowadays, it has gotten harder to tolerate even the most mediocre of entries, only because of the amount of cliches and hokum that saturate so many of them. (At this point even my son shies away from many unless it gets great buzz or has amazing word of mouth).
Well, of all people, it was my Wife that beat me to the punch as she took a chance on a new creature feature and recommended it to me. She knows that I am extremely discriminating these days with what monster flicks I watch and I decided to check out “Dark was the Night” (A few nights ago on Netflix Instant Streaming, no less) after she felt I would find some stuff to like in it and perhaps maybe whip up a review. Well, here is my review and I did indeed find some “stuff” to like in Jack Heller’s neat little monster movie. My Wife also reminded me of my high standards with the genre and not to expect a miraculous second coming of the Creature Feature.
With this in the back of my little mind, I actually enjoyed this visually appealing offering that never takes itself too seriously (It does refrain from having too much humor, though) or never tries, like recent entry: “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night,” to add levels of artsiness and pretention. It’s a monster flick that knows it’s a monster flick and what helps the movie is that it at least attempts to introduce a somewhat original creature which is loosely based on folklore and indigenous legends.
The script by writer Tyler Hisel (Static, Safari) had languished a while as an un-produced screenplay. Initially called, “The Trees,” Hisel’s script was finally dusted off and with the right enthusiastic backers, “Dark was the Night” was finally made. What I noticed first was that the cardinal rule, probably first initiated by Steven Spielberg with “Jaws,” was followed in that the titular beastie in the film is shown very little. Whether it was by choice or because of budget constraints, it remains the right decision because Heller’s film is a character study first and a monster movie second. Much like “Jaws” and other films that follow that particular lead.
Not unlike Howard Hawks’ “The Thing from Another World,” “Dark was the Night” builds suspense, fear and dread from the characters speaking and discussing the creature more than actually showing it. It is a manipulation that does the film justice. Heller’s film begins with a group of remote loggers running into a mysterious and ferocious animal that appears seemingly out of nowhere. One unfortunate crew member, while discovering the worst possible thing has happened to a co-worker, finds himself a victim, too. He is unfortunately dispatched with amazing ferocity and off we go…
The action moves to a quiet, small and insular community named, Maiden Woods, which is basically made up of people of the land. Outdooors-men, farmers, hunters and horse and cattle owners. The remote area has only one Sheriff named Shields (Played by Kevin Durand: LOST, The Strain) and his change searching, NYC transplanted deputy, named Saunders (Lukas Haas: Witness). Shields and Saunders are both stoic, smart and dedicated men and they both have heavy emotional complexities that Hisel’s script explores with small, well done vignettes into their personal lives without getting too melodramatic or saccharine. Shields is estranged from his wife, Susan (Bianca Kajilich) and young son, Adam (Ethan Khusidman) due to a painful loss that the entire town, including the local Priest, knows about. Saunders, on the other hand, harbors a mental incapacity to a previous job related injury (perhaps a PTSD sufferer?) that may or may not have caused him to seek out more peaceful pastures.
The town begins to unravel as strange things begin to happen. Shields and Saunders try hard to be the voice of reason, not only to the townsfolk, but to themselves. The problems of feral looking claws mark, strange foot prints that do not appear to be from any known animal, missing horses, wildlife disappearing and missing hunters, all drop right onto their proverbial plate. Not to mention supporting characters all doubting and hindering the investigation and capability of the law-men at just about every turn. Heller competently gives us insight into how they approach the investigation in proper manner but when what they see and hear turns the tide of evidence, they make the decision to finally figure out that they may be dealing with a creature that has resurfaced (like a once thought extinct water species that Saunders speaks about) either from deforestation or from being able to elude humanity and stay hidden until now. Whatever it is, it is a hardcore beast and when someone crosses it, it ain’t pretty.
Durand and Haas, along with the rest of the cast, which includes Earl (Nick DaMici of Late Phases and Stake Land), a tavern owner that offers an alternative explanation that involves local legends of a native american demon renowned in the area, are finely tuned into the monster movie machinations that Heller projects. Here, they do it well with believable aplomb. Heller also provides a few considerably effective moments of creature frights with well placed camera movements and shots and successfully uses the stamina of Durand to reel us into what he is feeling and dreading. Personal issues aside (which remedy themselves eventually), Durand’s portrayal of Shields is of a parent and husband trying the reconcile demons internally and externally while trying to keep his Town and Deputy safe. Heller supplies us with quick and creepy shots of the monster in the dark and in it’s foliage dense environment, sometimes lit by lightning or even the headlights of Shields’ truck. All in all the glances are disturbing and dread inducing.
“Dark was the Night” is an efficient monster flick that has a tight and controlled script at it’s core and Heller’s capable and low key direction and visuals (we get a bluish, desaturated town in the grips of winter) are to be commended for not spiraling out of control like recent entries in this genre. We get beautifully composed shots of churches, roads, trees and one chilling frame of the towns people gathering in the street on both sides of a footprint trail. The DP, Ryan Samul (Stake Land) utilizes the raw power of the RED Cam to wonderful effect, here.
The film also blends the mysteries and idiosyncrasies of the town, the investigation and monster very well without losing sight of how the characters themselves fight for survival. The conclusion, which has the remaining townspeople gathered in a Church, may ring a bit hokey and ho hum but stick with it, only because Heller ratches up the monster mayhem and revels in letting loose a bit when the humans face the creature up close. When we finally do see the monster, whether or not it lives up to your expectations, it is still fleeting, keeping in line with all of the brief flashes we have seen before. Also, Heller throws in a bit of a twisty ending that some may feel is abrupt or cliché but it doesn’t ruin the over-all experience of this well acted and creepily paced creature piece.
If there is one reason I may have to recommend the film is for Durand’s commanding turn as Sheriff Shields. Haas is perfectly cast as well, with many insightful scenes on his own to watch, and the two leads give the movie a secure backbone. It’s the right mixture and foundation for Heller and Hisel to build this quirky indie monster bash upon. “Dark was the Night” is currently available on Netflix Streaming. Enjoy!