“Dark Was The Night” is a thriller directed by Jack Heller, starring Kevin Durand and Lukas Haas. The movie, shot mostly in cold, blue lighting, is the story of a small town called Maiden Woods that is suddenly plagued by a vicious creature. The town’s defenders are Sheriff Paul Shields (Durand), who is grieving in stoic silence for a son whose death he blames himself for, and his quiet, thoughtful deputy, Donny (Haas), recently relocated from New York after surviving a gunshot incident.
After a logging crew is attacked in the woods, elsewhere in the area, the Maiden Woods residents wake up to discover large, strange footprints in the snow all over the town (a reference to this legend, apparently). Farm animals go missing and the game in the woods starts to disappear, and a local bar owner who is part Shawnee starts spreading stories he heard as a child about spirits in the woods. The movie is engaging as it builds on this creepy atmosphere, allowing us only glimpses of the monster until the very end. Paul and Donny are also likeable, realistic characters, neither of them cocky action heroes or super sleuths. There are some nice touches here and there, such as when the tall, lumbering Paul meets his wife (Bianca Kajlich) and surviving son at a diner, and he crouches over the little table awkwardly, due to his size. Much is made of the town’s expectations of Paul to protect them, contrasted with the shame he feels at failing to save his son, so it seems appropriate that his family is small in stature.
The three-toed hoof prints lead Paul to search online – another nice touch is that he types slowly – but we only briefly see his list of results, which include the Windiga/Wendigo and Jersey Devil legends. Then he begins to hear the voice of his deceased son in the woods, and even to imagine he sees him at home, suggesting the monster is some kind of trickster spirit, trying to lure him out. Or is it just that Paul’s grief is consuming him? Donny brings up the idea that the creature could be an animal previously thought to be extinct, and then there is a pivotal-seeming scene in which he tells Paul that he believes maybe he came to the town because he’s supposed to protect someone, or be protected himself. This would normally be heavy-handed foreshadowing, but in fact, everything carefully built up and hinted at in the story is totally abandoned in the end.
The ending is surprisingly incongruous, so much so that feels like it was written by someone else entirely. What was an absorbing, slow-burning thriller with characters you feel for, suddenly becomes a creature feature with a “gotcha” twist and horror comic-style closing credits. The battle between Paul and the monster, whose existence is never explained, is also unconvincing, considering how much carnage the thing has caused others throughout the movie. The lack of any back-story resolution for the creature makes me question the film’s tagline: “Evil’s roots run deep.” How do we even know the thing is evil?
“Dark Was The Night” is in theaters now, and I do recommend it apart from the disappointing ending. It almost feels as if the production ran out of time or money and came up with a quick fix, which is a shame, considering your investment in the characters.
Image courtesy of Katrina Wan PR