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    Dark Was the Night (2015): Movie Review

    “An intriguing but dull monster hunt.” 

    Two guilt-ridden cops are up against a supernatural monster from Native American myths in Jack Heller’s Dark was the Night. In this slow-burning character-driven horror film, the fictional town of Maiden Woods are facing a fast-moving and angry presence, and their salvation lies in the hands of the troubled sheriff and his deputy.

    In the movie’s prologue, a logging foreman who is looking for his two lost men meets the same violent fate in the woods. Displaced from its home, the unidentified predator moves 90 miles south, to the wintry and sleepy town of Maiden Woods.

    Mysteriously, a horse has gone missing from a farmer’s ranch during the night. Another night passes and in the next morning, large hoof prints are encircling all the houses in the town but vanish into thin air in the woods. Sheriff Paul Shields (Kevin Durand), a self-doubting man who is still mourning for the accidental death of his son, investigates the incident. On the verge of divorce from his wife (Bianca Kajlich), Paul spends some of his quiet time at home with his other son (Ethan Khusidman) who has developed traumas from his brother’s death. Assisting him in the investigation is Deputy Donny Saunders (Lukas Haas), a New York native who is still adjusting to life in the town. Nursing his own guilt from a recent tragedy, Donny has some drinking problems.

    The odd prints are initially thought to be simply pranks but disturbing signs keep coming. Pets disappear, deer and wildlife die, and birds flee from the area. Three hunters are suddenly attacked in the woods but one manages to survive and tell Sheriff Shields about the colossal cloven-hoofed menace.

    A severe snowstorm hits Maiden Woods. While most locales temporarily left town, those left gather in the church as ordered by Sheriff Shields. The predator begins breaking into individual houses and it is only a matter of time before it visits the seemingly indomitable church. 

    Dark was the Night, much like other films in the genre, is filled with conventions and predictable twists. Heroes looking for redemption for their personal tragedies are protagonists commonly found not only in horror films but in every type. However, the movie compensates its lack of originality with well-mannered and controlled structure. Aside from its stirring character dynamics, there is shrewd restraint in its storytelling. Though predictable, the revelation about the sheriff’s backstory is well-timed that it achieves parallel connection with the recent tragedy in Maiden Woods. The monster also takes too long to show up. Other than the occasional glimpse of its dinosaur-like claws or hooves, it only appears head, feet and all at the climactic siege in the church. So when it comes out, it emerges with a big bang! It is absolutely ugly but incontestably huge and creepy.

    The film also has some touch of ecological awareness as the aforementioned menace is tree-dwelling in nature. So when it is driven out of its home due to logging, it seeks similar places. But this time, the predator is not anymore satisfied with the trees as it hunts for comfort in human homes. In the terrifying climax, the sanctity and sturdiness of the church is not enough to keep the presence away.

    Though the film is mostly dull, it remains watchable due to the solid performance of the cast, particularly of the two leads. Durand shows tacit strength and resolve as the sheriff while bitter and angry as the same time as the grieving father. He maintains such negativity but manages to perform heroics for the community who counts on him. Innocent-faced and wide-eyed Hass levels with Durand as the self-sacrificing deputy. 

    Dark was the Night is intelligent but generic. Its atmospherics, mostly monochromatic and dreary, work at some moments but depressing at certain times. It is tender and inspiring, but boring at the same time. Though its character development and plot restraint are admirable, it remains too common and derivative to leave lasting effects.


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