Dark Was the Night (2014): Kevin Durand & Lukas Haas Kill It

Kevin Durand Lukas Haas

Written by Tyler Hisel and directed by Jack Heller Dark Was the Night is a slow moody piece that gives stars Kevin Durand and Lukas Haas star turns. It also boasts a pretty impressive cast of secondary characters with Nick Damici (Stake Land, Cold in July) and Bianca Kajlich (Rules of Engagement, Undateable) to name but too very capable actors who round out the cast.  Set in the dwindling forests of small town America, the film feels a little like a real-life version of  Ferngully: The Last Rainforest but with razor sharp teeth and a voracious appetite.

While there are no fairies or small magical creatures, this film’s “Hexxus” is just as natural as the element in the ecological message a’la animated feature (with Christian Slater and Robin Williams), but lacks Tim Curry’s voice to make it seem more identifiable. In Heller’s film, this entity is big, mostly unseen, and fast. The creature has  thrice-spilt hooves  and razor sharp claws and later we also learn it has razor sharp teeth as well.

Set against around a small rural township, the film begins with the creature being discovered at a logging camp. It claims its first victims and then moves south. The local sheriff 20 miles away first learns of the migrating monster from a local horse breeder. Paul Shields (Durand) and his deputy Donny Saunders (Haas) investigate somewhat half-heartedly  the disappearance of one horse as they believe the breeder left a gate open and his horse escaped. The owner believes the horse was stolen.  Later we learn it was most likely eaten.

Shields’ mind is not on day-to-day policing of his town and its people. A recent tragedy, his sone drowns while under his care, and he and his wife, and other son, are struggling to deal with the loss. With his whole world in tatters, the sheriff is almost sleepwalking through his duties.

Durand, as Shields, looks as though he will burst into painful and heartfelt tears of grief at any moment. The man evokes so much inner torment that one wonders how he is able to operate on any level. Donny, the erstwhile former New Yorker who transferred to the country keeps an eye  on his boss while trying to get over being shot back in the Big Apple.

Canadian actor Durand is usual associated with action roles, although he has been knocking it out of the park with the FX series The Strain  as exterminator Vasiliy Fet.  His performance in this slow atmospheric horror thriller, proves that this actor’s chops are massive enough to leave the action genre behind if he so choses.

Co-star Haas, who has been working in the industry since 1983, is no stranger to the horror genre and his solid, and oh so real, performance helps to sell this film’s events without question.

Heller films his external day-time scenes with hues of blue saturating every frame.  This makes the film’s setting appear even colder and all the more disturbing as the unfolding events slowly build up to an unsettling climax.  The night time sequences are pitch black, leaving the viewer as disoriented as the main characters must be in the scene.

The pacing of the film is slow, moving forward at the speed of an arthritic crawl, but the sense of foreboding is overpowering and helps to keep suspense building despite the almost crippling lack of adrenaline.  This slowness does enhance the more intense moments.

When the hunters encounter the creature in the woods or when the police find the remains of the “monster’s” feeding frenzies, it shocks and impresses.  This film is not about jump scares and serial killers with large knives or alien races attempting mass genocide with buckets of gore.

It is a campfire tale, with a touch of  cautionary parable mixed in for good measure.  As Sheriff Shields points out in the film, this creature, disturbed by the loggers, is attempting to find another hiding place. With no place left to run, it feels threatened and is trying to claim a new territory. (Ferngully: The Last Rainforest but without the mysticism.)

The thing is also hungry.

Dark Was the Night,  proves that Kevin Durand can carry a film, with a little help from Lukas Haas, but this assistance was not really necessary. Durand convinces with a performance that feels tortured and full of pathos. Heller allows his star to channel his inner grief and it enhances the film beautifully.

The film is on US Netflix at the moment and is a solid 4 out of 5 star movie.  A whole star is lost because of the creature itself. When we finally see it, the thing feels more CGI than a real “once thought extinct” boogeyman.  Regardless of the “letdown” at the end this is great entertainment and worth watching.

Long Time Dead (2002): Djinn See that Coming

Long Time Dead
Long Time Dead (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Directed by Marcus Adams and written by him and five other writers Long Time Dead centres around a Ouija board party that goes wrong. The group of 20 some-things who “have a go” at contacting the spirits are not taking the whole thing very seriously and that’s a big mistake. The film starts with a montage of scenes showing a 1979 Ouija board seance in Morocco that goes horribly wrong. As the film shifts into present day we meet our core group of folks who will accompany us on this short journey of fear.

The cast only has two ‘notable’ names. The late Tom Bell as Becker, the creepy landlord of the huge house that part of the group share and Joe Absolom as Rob. Tom Bell was a real jobbing actor who was constantly in demand. Absolom got his big break on the BBC soap EastEnders playing Matthew Rose. Absolom could be seen as this generations Tom Bell, he is always working and you’ll see his name appearing in a lot of credit lists.

But then the same can be said of James Hillier, Lara Belmont, Lukas Haas and the rest of the main cast. The film is made up of jobbing actors who can be relied on to deliver. Of course a few of them have improved since their performance in Long Time Dead. The only two actors who stood out were Lukas Haas and Tom Bell.  Of course they would stand out, Haas has been in the business since he was 5 years old and Bell had a lifetime of experience.

After the move to present day we meet the guys and gals who will make up the protagonists of the film. Rob, Stella, Liam and Spencer share a house and they are in the process of getting a new house mate, Joe. They all decide to go to a rave type party where Spencer will meet up with girlfriend Lucy and Liam will meet his girl Anne, also attending is mutual friend Webster.

Once the group get there, Liam starts filming everyone on a hand-held camera. Everyone gets bored (sorry about the pun) and decide to break off from the party. Finding a conveniently desert room on the top floor of the warehouse the rave is in, the group decide to make a Ouija board from a large broken pane of glass and some paper.

Lucy is the resident Ouija board expert as she studies witchcraft. Using a small glass as a pendant the group start their seance. Most of the group don’t take the exercise seriously but they all put their index fingers on the small glass. Lucy tells everyone that they must not break contact with the glass pendant until they’ve said goodbye otherwise the spirit that they summon will be earthbound.

The glass  pendant then spells out the word Djinn. Someone asks if the board can tell the future and it goes to the “yes” and then spell out, “All die.” It then goes on to spell Anne’s name.

Liam suddenly flips out and smashing the glass runs out of the room. This breaks up the seance and Anne goes out to the roof where Liam ran. After a short talk, she realises that she has left her inhaler in the room. As she suffers quite badly from asthma she goes to get it.

Anne is, of course, the first of the group to die as the Djinn from the Ouija board hunt them all down.

The movie moves at a good clip and there are enough suitably creepy moments that help to sell the scares.  The lighting and cinematography work well together to paint a great atmosphere. And although the film does rely on some horror clichés some of what they do is pretty original.

The acting is a let down, as I said earlier, and the plot isn’t blazingly original either. Using the glass pane for the Ouija board was annoying to say the least, the noise of the glass scrapping across the glass was worse than fingernails on a chalkboard. Of course this noise was manufactured by the sound effects department, so they and the director should both share the blame.

The film’s definition of a Djinn (that’s evil genie to me and you) was defined as a “fire demon” which I found quite funny. In the 1997 film Wishmaster (a Wes Craven presents film) a Djinn was just an evil genie, although in that film it was also divested of a twisted sense of humour.

Still the film is a “good un” and well worth a watch. It’s scary enough to cause the odd jump and some of the effects are quite good. For some reason it has always ranked as a favourite of mine and re-watching it, I found this was still the case.

Let me know what you think.

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