Horror Film Review: Dark Was The Night (dir by Jack Heller)

The 2014 horror film, Dark Was The Night, takes place in the town of Madison Woods.

Madison Woods is a small, isolated town that is located somewhere up north.  It’s one of those dreary blue collar towns where everyone knows everyone else.  Most of the citizens work in the logging industry, attend the same church, and drink at the same bar.  It’s not a town where much happens.  The police force consists of two guys, Sheriff Paul Shields (Kevin Durand) and his new deputy, Donny Saunders (Lukas Haas).  Donny worked in New York City before moving to Madison Woods.  Shields is currently estranged from his wife.  That’s the type of thing that passes for big news in Madison Woods.

When one of the local farmers complains that one of his horses has disappeared, Shields and Saunders assume that the horse has just run off.  When other animals start to disappear, Shields continues to insist that it’s all just a coincidence.  When the local hunters start to talk about an ancient legend of a monster that lives in the woods, Shields replies that there are no monsters and, for good measure, there’s no God as well.  (In many ways, Shields is a perfect example of the old joke about how the best way to spot an atheist is to wait a few minutes and he’ll tell you.)  Even when weird cloven footsteps start to show up around town and Shields himself spots something in his backyard, the Sheriff continues to insist that there is a rational explanation for all of this.  Meanwhile, Saunders hangs out at the bar and drinks and really, who can blame him?  As far as I can tell, it’s not like Madison Woods has a movie theater or anything like that.  It’s a really boring town.  You can either develop the beginnings of a drinking problem or you can start random fights or you can get ripped apart by the thing in the woods.  Make your choice.

Eventually, Shields and Saunders do discover that there is something lurking out in the woods.  And, despite their attempts to come up with a rational explanation, the creature proves itself to be more than just some animal.  Instead, it’s a true supernatural monster, tracking its prey through the community.  As a group of loggers discover at the start of the movie, the creature is just as quick to attack humans as it is to go after deer and other wild animals.  With the entire town locked away in the church basement (because, as Night of the Living Dead proved, the basement is always the safest place), Saunders and Shields try to figure out how to stop a monster that neither one of them has ever seen before.

Dark Was The Night was loosely inspired by a true story.  In 1885, the citizens of Topsham in the UK were stunned to wake up one cold morning and discover a series of cloven footprints in the snow.  The footprints led through the entire city and it appeared that whatever was responsible for them had stopped in front of every house and place of business.  Some claimed that the footprints belonged to the devil while others said that it was just some sort of animal.  The Devil’s Footprints, as the story became known, serves as a bit of Rorschach test.  Those inclined to believe in the supernatural have little trouble believing that the Devil visited the town of Topsham while the more rational among us assume that the footprints were left by a wild animal and then people saw whatever they wanted.  Dark Was The Night moves the story to the modern day and to America but the question remains the same.  Is there really a monster in the woods or, as Shields initially believes, are people just seeing what they want to see?  Unfortunately, the film reveals the monster’s existence within its opening minutes.  The film would have perhaps been more effective if there had at least been some mystery about whether or not Shields’s initial instincts were correct.

Dark Was The Night is a deliberately paced film, which again would be more effective if there was any mystery at all as to whether or not the monster actually existed.  On the plus side, the film is full of atmosphere and Kevin Durand and Lukas Haas are both effective as the two lawmen who find themselves in over their heads.  Fans of Lost will remember Durand as the evil Martin Keamy, who was one of the most heartless characters to ever appear on that show or any other show.  Durand gets to play the hero in Dark Was The Night and gives a good performance as a man who discovers that not everything has a rational explanation.  That said, while the film has some interesting ideas and performances, it ultimately becomes just another monster-laying-siege film and the ending is one that most viewers will see coming from miles away.  It’s not a bad film but it’s still never quite as good as one might hope.

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