Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Cast Out the Devil and Dark Was the Night: A Film Review

*full disclosure: an online screener of this film was provided by RLJ Entertainment.

Director: Jack Heller.

Writer: Tyler Hisel.

Cast: Steve Agee, Nick Damici, Kevin Durand and Heath Freeman.

Dark Was the Night is the latest film from rookie director Jack Heller (Enter Nowhere). The film, from the promotional material, appears to be a creature feature. But, Dark Was the Night is centrally a family drama; the creatures lurk around the edges of the central setting, Maiden Woods. Though, they do make a late CGI appearance. Starring horror vet Nick Damici (Late Phases) and Kevin Durand, the film offers three mediocre themes: the male protection of femininity, the Devil as evil and a minor one involving hunting, or the creature(s) being a hunter. All of these themes could have been forgotten for a more important one, involving humanity's encroachment on nature. As it is, Dark Was the Night is a fairly standard horror outing.

A small, isolated town and a sheriff a stalking creature, you have been here before. This time, the sheriff is dealing with a minor sub-plot, the loss of his young son, Tim. His marriage is suffering and a new deputy is doing his best to support him. Together, the two law enforcement officials realize that their town is under siege. Horses go missing, hunters turn up in trees and there are three hoofed tracks everywhere. Meanwhile, a CGI monster is doing its best to appear as menacing as possible, but its late appearance is almost laughable. Dark Was the Night never really emerges from the darkness into brilliance.

A second viewing reveals a major theme; the creature is a manifestation of the Devil. The three hooves and goat-like appearance provide a physical clue as to the creature's true identity. As well, Paul's wife makes it even clearer: "it's the Devil." Subtlety might not be the writer's forte. If that was not enough, a flock of ravens or crows fly over the church as Satan comes to town. A screaming flock of birds is almost always a bad sign, in film. This time the birds leave a proverbial poop on the church's steeple. Still, the examples of the Devil's invasion of the town, continue. A reddish hue, during the film's climax, will hit you over the head, that this is Hell and you should be afraid! But, the Christian, Catholic, or Protestant motifs are extremely overdone and repeated in the horror genre and they are uninspiring here.

The film's primary theme, masculine protection of femininity, is even more simplistic. There is a hint in the town's name, Maiden Woods, as to what the men are protecting. A maiden is a single, young woman. In the film, that maiden is played by Sabina Gadecki. She is the focus of Deputy Donny's affection. And, Donny (Lukas Haas) even states: "I feel I was sent to protect someone." But, does the object of his desire even need protection? Pixels do not make for a great enemy. To reinforce this theme, the film's protagonist is named Paul Shields. He is there to shield the whole town. Meanwhile, Paul's character arc involves his inability to protect his son, Tim; Tim died in a swimming pool accident. Now, he is trying to overcome this former loss by preventing more death. Masculinity as a protective force is as old as time itself. As a theme in film, it feels too simplistic to anchor the film.

Horror fans might be disappointed by this outing. Horror elements are relegated to the final act. Along the way, dead animals turn up, or a bloody arm will rest behind a tree. But, there is no great conflict between the protagonist and his nemesis, in early scenes. As well, there is no real terror drummed up in the film and this viewer was hoping for a little more. Also, the film misses an opportunity. The creature's egress from a local wood is initiated by foresting. Man's encroachment into the natural surroundings creates a consequence, a malicious force of nature. That social message is teased in a few logging scenes and then forgotten for the rest of the film. That was a mistake. Humanity's destruction of habitats is ongoing and only getting worse; this message is relevant and important, but brushed aside, quickly.

Dark Was the Night will be trying to put its meaty claws in your wallet, through Video-on-demand. But, you might want to push that clawed hand back and seek out other, more entertaining film fare. As it is, Dark Was the Night fails on a few levels: theme and conflict. If you are in the mood for a family drama, or thriller, then this film might whet that appetite. However, horror fans have seen many of the tropes here and there are few surprises within the film. In the end, there is no scary monster hiding under the bed, in Dark Was the Night.

Overall: 6 out of 10.

*the third, minor theme of hunting is referenced through the many appearances of dead animals. The stalking creature is a predator, which is readily apparent, in other, bloodier scenes.

*if you put all of the themes together, you will realize that the men are trying to protect the female characters from evil. This is an impossible undertaking in reality and not satisfying in film (possibly even insulting to female viewers).

**the film's only major attempt to offer symbolic language involves a toy dinosaur. The dinosaur is a reference to the creature's near extinction, which is also mentioned in the dialogue.

A trailer for the film is hosted here:

A Dark Was the Night Trailer on 28DLA

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