Horror fans ought to start getting used to seeing strings of horror flicks grounded on serious emotional ground. The Babadook broke down that door last year and if Jack Heller has anything to say about it, Dark Was the Night is on deck to be the creature feature ying to The Babadook's yang.
Maiden Woods' sheriff, Paul (Kevin Durand), is a man reeling from a tragic loss in his family and recent separation from his wife. On the heels of his struggles comes a string of mysterious disturbances such as missing livestock and muddy hoof prints trailing through town and leading into the woods. Locals whisper of ancient stories about a creature that lurks in the woods while Paul and his newly hired deputy, Donny (Lukas Haas), work to calm the rumors. However, as things intensify it becomes harder for the two to deny the likelihood that the local folklore could be a reality.
Dark Was the Night is not The Babadook, but it tackles horror in very much the same way. Rather than beating the audience over the head with its supernatural entity, it uses the emotional arcs of the main characters as a metaphor. As such, it places doubt as to rather or not what's happening is a manifestation of the heroes guilt and pain. Except for the fact that Heller and company want it to be clear, there is a real threat lurking in the woods- the subtext is just the gooey chocolate center of the rich horror cake.
The filmmakers employ lots of classic horror techniques to manifest the maximum amount of tension into each scene. Day scenes appear aggressively overcast while the night scenes are marginally lit by flashlights so that when things go bump in the night we as the audience are right there in the character's shoes wondering where the noise came from and are never sure what it was we might have seen. A growing sense of dread permeates the final act as we know at some point something has to give and it does just as the film reaches its emotional peak. The final act, while rushed, features a thoroughly impressive sound design and unfortunately ends on a painfully forced attempt to grasp at interest in a potential franchise.
Beautifully filmed and acted, Durand puts forth one of his best performances in a lead role stoically selling the inner turmoil of a conflicted family man. The emotional core of Dark Was the Night is far more impactful than the creature element- in fact, the film may have been stronger if Heller hadn't abandoned his less is more approach in the final minutes. With shades of Jaws and a strong emotional punch Dark Was the Night is something of a sleeper horror hit fans should definitely seek out.