Dark Was the Night (2014)

A lot of you aren’t going to like this one.

The same ones who complain that nothing happens in some of my favorite horror films, I suspect.

The truth is that there is a profound division within the horror fandom:

There are some who want their horror films to be in their face, with plenty of blood, gore and random carnage.

But then there are those of us who like their horror creepy and understated, full of ominous hints and suggested terrors.

Which is what we have here.

Something strange is happening in the small town of Maiden Woods.

It doesn’t seem like much at first: odd little incidents; prowlers; missing animals; and miles of weird footprints.

But as Sheriff Paul Shields (Kevin Durand) investigates, he slowly begins to suspect that all these things are connected.  There is something out there in the woods, something completely unknown…

That is, of course, a very familiar sort of horror film plot, but then you can say that about a lot of horror films.

But Dark Was the Night has something more.  It takes place in a small town, where people have long established connections and there are no simple villains or heroes, just people whose wants, needs and personalities bring them into conflict with each other.

And, yes, as this is a small town, they can also be drawn out of those conflicts when things get really bad.

The Sheriff is one of the strongest pieces of writing I’ve seen in a monster movie in a long time, on a par with Ethan Daunes in The Arbors.  Paul blames himself for his younger son’s death and wonders how he can keep anyone else safe if he couldn’t even protect his son.  It’s tearing him up, threatening to ruin his marriage and separating him emotionally from his surviving son.

And yet everyone in town knows that he can keep them safe.

Kevin Durand is one of those enormously talented yet still unsung actors and he’s at the top of his form here, bringing a lot of depth and pain to Paul.

There’s a theme here I particularly like, which appears again and again, as characters ask themselves why they are in Maiden Woods, or why things in their lives happened the way they did.  It is so rare these days to find questions of purpose, meaning and duty explored in our entertainment — or to find a film which senses that there is some greater purpose behind the events we see.  I’m not sure how well this fits in with the ending, but I’ll admit that it is a beautiful and unexpected uncertain ending and the two may not be entirely at odds.

As you’ve guessed by now, I quite like this one.  It’s a creepy, suspenseful, slow-burn horror story, with good writing, solid characters, a strong sense of place, and an impressive take on a legendary cryptid which hasn’t appeared in too many movies.  I know some people have complained about the design of the creature, but I’m actually impressed that they turned the rather strange descriptions of the real-life beast into a formidable monstrosity.  I’ll admit that it helps that we don’t see too much of it.  But then that’s always a plus for any movie monster.

By now, you know which side of the great monster movie divide you fall on.  If you are looking for gore, guts and brutally explicit violence then you won’t like this one.

But, if you are looking for something more thoughtful and creepy, then Dark Was the Night should fit the bill.

(Watch for free at Tubi)

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