November 29, 2015


Dark Was the Night (2014) is a film produced and directed by Jack Heller, written by Tyler Hisel, and stars Kevin Durand, Lukas Haas, Bianca Kajlich, and Nick Damici. Formerly known as The Trees, it was included in 2009’s Hollywood Blacklist and is loosely based on actual events which occurred in England in 1855—a phenomenon known as The Devil’sFootprints.

It’s rare for a modern horror movie to come along that doesn’t rely on excessive gore, violence, or nudity to do the heavy lifting for it, so when an alternative comes along, I feel I have a duty to spread the word. Dark Was the Night is just such a film; it relies on story, characterization, and atmosphere, and eschews many of the tropes so prevalent in many other horror films. It’s not a perfect movie, but if you crave something less gory and full of jump scares, something more driven by suspense and tension, then Dark Was the Night is a gem hidden amongst a lot of chaff.

The story unfolds as a logging company is closing down for the weekend in the snow-encrusted forest of an unspecified region of northern America. As everyone is leaving, a group of workers is viciously attacked and killed. Ninety miles south, in the tiny township of Maiden Woods, Sheriff Paul Shields (Durand) and Deputy Donny Saunders (Haas) discover a mysterious set of cloven, bipedal hoof prints cutting through the majority of town, passing by the windows of many homes as if something has been watching everyone. Naturally, the superstitious townsfolk are spooked by the event and speak of evil spirits that have supposedly haunted the woods in the region for centuries.

While dealing with a growing number of strange happenings that seem to be related to the hoof prints, Shields also contends with his own personal demons, which have driven a wedge between himself and his estranged wife (Kajlich) and son. Saunders, a transplant to the Sheriff’s office from New York City, hears some of the folklore from a local bartender (Damici); Saunders speaks to Shields about the stories, but both men are adamant in the belief that nothing supernatural is afoot in the woods…until they are finally forced to go head to head with something monstrous that defies all rational explanation, and save the residents of Maiden Woods.

Kevin Durand is an actor I’ve come to appreciate in the years I’ve seen him on film. Usually relegated to smaller, tough-guy roles in films (sharp-eyed comic book movie fans will remember him as Fred Dukes a.k.a. the Blob in X-Men Origins: Wolverine), he is given the chance to shine as the leading man and he doesn’t disappoint. I have to admit that I was genuinely surprised by his range and depth—his character is rich, complex, and deeply haunted by a tragic event from his past that serves as a satisfying driving force for his role in the movie. It’s a pure joy watching him operate, and I’m looking forward to see where his career goes from here.

Although his character is considerably less under the lens than the lead’s, Lukas Haas brings a lot to the table as Deputy Saunders, portraying him with an earnest sense of duty and loyalty, a man who has come to the tiny town to escape the horrors he’s experienced in New York City; every scene he shares with Durand conveys a sense of comradery and mutual respect that feels genuinely organic, a true testament to his capabilities as an actor. The rest of the actors do a great job as well; Kajlich as the sympathetic wife who wishes things could be different is a breath of fresh air when it comes to many relationships depicted in horror films. Damici is given little to work with, but he always puts a smile on my face in virtually every scene he graces.

The monster itself is enshrouded in secrecy all the way up until the climax of the film, and despite some sketchy CGI shots here and there, it’s a gratifying experience nonetheless to see something onscreen that hasn’t really been depicted before. The real strength of the beast lies in the mystery surrounding it throughout the film, allowing for a spooky, palpable presence that drapes over the story for the duration of the runtime.

If you’re interested in checking it out, Dark Was the Night is currently available via Netflix Streaming. If you give it a watch, be sure to let me know what you thought in the comments below!

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