Whenever darkness falls upon a cast of horror movie characters, you know it’s go-time. Whether it be in nightmares, during the 3:00AM witching hour, or cloaked under the moon’s pale glow, darkness allows for the most vile beasts to enjoy a little after-hours tormenting. Werewolves, vampires, boogeymen and monsters alike use the dark for cover, which makes for a proper introduction to Jack Heller’s Dark Was The Night. Yes, it’s about the darkness of night, evil figures that lurk between the shadows, and, of course, the perils of deforestation! What, you didn’t see a forest-friendly message coming?
Tyler Hisel’s script has everything you’d expect from a “monster in the woods” kind of creature feature, right down to the desolate little mountain town. Kevin Durand plays the congregation’s sheriff, Paul Shields, while Lukas Haas plays his deputy, Donny Saunders. The two law enforcers awake one day to find strange animal tracks all through town, shaped like horse hooves, but Shields writes it off as a prank. Then some animals start to disappear, and Shields gets a little more serious about the mysterious events. But after the vanishing animals comes a few human bodies, and that’s when Paul realizes something evil has taken to the town’s surrounding woods – a realization that turns into a nightly fight for survival.
Of course, the demonic assault happens just as Paul is (ineffectively) dealing with an insurmountable amount of grief – a sullen wall that pushes away his wife, Susan (Bianca Kajlich). This wedge makes for an emotionally dead main character in Paul Shields, which is a role Kevin Durand was meant to play. He’s succeeded in playing stereotypical badasses time and time again (plus a blob-ish mutant in X-Men Origins: Wolverine), but it’s his stern coldness that fits Dark Was The Night all-too-perfectly. Durand pulls from the blank nothingness of Heller’s empty mountain town and translates that hollow despair into his character’s existence, as he ends up speaking volumes through a minimalist delivery. Don’t worry – he still kicks some monster ass, but he makes it a little more involved than some Duke Nukem bullet-spree.
Then again, Heller’s direction seems somewhat familiar. If you’ve seen any generic creature-stalking flick, than you’ve seen Dark Was The Night. A monster lurks in the shadows, townspeople begin to spout insane local myths and we get numerous shots of cloven-hoofed feet before a brisk ending reveals Heller’s evil baddie in full form. There’s nothing special about the multiple off-screen deaths and screams of terror, even if one of those poor victims is Steve Agee, and for those reasons, it’s hard to argue an unfortunate level of horror normalcy. By no means is Dark Was The Night an inept or bumbling watch, but it’s a “been there, done that” type of thriller with a few mixed-up details for differentiation.
Heller’s mundane fate is sealed upon his “monumental” creature reveal, which is everything Dark Was The Night builds itself upon. When you make your audience wait, you better brings the goods. If you waited an hour for Bobby Flay to prepare dinner, you’d expect the best, correct? Well, Heller is no Bobby Flay, and even though practicality shines through when we catch lower-half glimpses of his baddie’s pounding feet, low-budget ADR effects make up the creature’s full form. The monster looks a bit like if Killer Croc had a lovechild with a miniature version of the Cloverfield creature, yet the mix of dim lighting effects and digital makeup muddies this fanged bastard’s full, menacing form. Again, it’s not a complete bust, but more of an “is that it?” kind of reaction.
In the proper mood, and with the proper crowd, I can’t deny that Dark Was The Night will score a passable amount of thrills and chills. Lukas Haas serves as an enjoyable sidekick, Nick Damici brings his typical genre gravitas (please put this man in EVERY movie), and we actually start to care about Durand’s well-being. I know, emotional investment in a horror movie – gasp! It’s a bit of a genre plod at times, as the most excitement you’ll encounter is three-toed snow prints sending civilians into a tizzy, but it all works well enough in the end.
It’s the wholesome connection to Paul Shields’ family that ends up being Heller’s saving grace, which sounds strange for me to stay about a horror movie starring Kevin Durand – but it works, and I’m not going to question why.
Dark Was The Night is an effortless monster flick that features a strong enough performance from Kevin Durand to turn something so dimly average into a creature flick with a bit more investment.