DARK WAS THE NIGHT movie poster | ©2015 Image Entertainment / RLJ Entertainment

DARK WAS THE NIGHT movie poster | ©2015 Image Entertainment / RLJ Entertainment

Rating: Not Rated
Stars:
Kevin Durand, Lukas Haas, Bianca Kajlich, Ethan Khusidman
Writer:
Tyler Hisel
Director:
Jack Heller
Distributor:
Image Entertainment/RLJ Entertainment
Release Date:
Blu-ray/DVD/VOD, September 1, 2015

DARK WAS THE NIGHT makes no pretense of reinventing the wheel. It is a straightforward, slow-burn monster in the woods story. What elevates it, apart from the strong performances of leads Kevin Durand and Lukas Haas, is the sense of certainty demonstrated by director Jack Heller and writer Tyler Hisel, demonstrating that sometimes all a story needs is to be told well.

When a logging company starts harvesting in a previously untouched New England forest, something very bad and very bloody happens to some of the loggers. Some time thereafter, ninety miles to the south in the small town of Maiden Woods, domestic animals begin disappearing and little Adam Shields (Ethan Khusidman) claims he saw something in the trees.

Adam’s dad Paul (Kevin Durand) is the town sheriff, sharing custody of the boy with loving but estranged wife Susan (Bianca Kajlich) after a family tragedy. Naturally, Adam’s claims are taken with a grain of salt, because he’s young, because he’s imaginative, and because Paul is caught up in his own grief and guilt. Gradually, events become weirder and more threatening. When Paul’s newish, out-of-towner deputy Donny Saunders (Lukas Haas) begins looking into local lore that dates back to Colonial times, he begins to believe that perhaps something hitherto unnoticed was dislodged by the logging. Paul starts to come around to this point of view as well.

The filmmakers take their time establishing the setting and the characters, giving Paul, Susan and Adam so much subplot that it could serve as the basis for a straight drama. There is an adroit balance between set-up, suspense and scares, so that a very satisfying rhythm is established. The clues work well enough, though horror purists may quibble with one suggestion of exactly what sort of entity is wreaking havoc. A cause for joy is that the main characters also act with intelligence – the story doesn’t revolve around anyone doing something dumb, but rather proceeds with the power of two increasingly determined forces on a collision course.

Another plus is that there’s a good build to revealing the creature. For a long while, we get glimpses of limbs and shapes – there’s a great distorted reflection in an urn at one point – until the last act, when we get a thorough and thoroughly effective look at what’s going bump (and growl and rend and kill) in the night.

Durand, currently playing a very different kind of monster hunter on THE STRAIN, is very sympathetic as the troubled lawman, striving to be both a responsible officer and a caring parent. Haas likewise puts a lot of quiet thought into Paul’s loyal second in command.

The Long Island locations are atmospherically bleak and the touches like unusual footprints add texture. What really stands out here, though, is the way everyone approaches the material. DARK WAS THE NIGHT feels like a horror offering from the era when the genre was expected to consist of real movies that also contained scares, rather than cynical, self-referential processed product. This DARK delivers.

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