I heard someone saying the other day that the reason that there was a dearth of low budget monster movies nowadays was because the monsters were expensive to do and if they didn’t get them right the whole film failed. I wonder if they were thinking about Dark Was The Night when they said that. If so they were wrong: Dark Was The Night is a monster movie that works despite it’s monster not, because of it.
Set at a Long Island logging community the locals are attacked and eaten by a cloven footed beast and rely on their local sheriff to get rid of the fiend before it gets rid of them. Of course their are numerous incidents of hunters being killed and deer sliced open but the film is much more interested in the the characters in this town than it is what’s trying to eat them. The chief of these is the sheriff himself. He’s withdrawn into himself after one of his sons accidentally drowns, and is wrapped in so much guilt that everyone wonder if he’s going to be any help to anyone. He’s played by Kevin Durand, a huge hulk of a man who towers over the rest of the cast and usually plays baddies or hit men, but such is the grief written on his face that he often seems smaller than he is, like he’s physically trying to shrink away from humanity. It’s a great performance at the centre of the story with lots of solid back up from the likes of Lukas Haas and Late Phases‘s Nick Damici.
Director Jack Heller really creates an atmospheric sense of place with this community way up in the bum-fuck middle of nowhere – there are not a lot of laughs between the townsfolk, most people there just seems to be just getting by: trying to survive in the bleak, winter landscape. They’re like the cast of Winter’s Bone but with less crystal meth. So when this monster comes to destroy the community, first showing itself by leaving hoof prints throughout the town, stopping at every window to have a look in, that same community spirit has to knuckle down to survive.
Of course Heller is taking a leaf out of Steven Spielberg’s old book of Jaws by not revealing the monster until late in the day. This is because a) it helps to create lots of tension and b) the monster is a load of old shite. That is one of the two main problems with the film, the monster is a digital disaster that doesn’t convince for a moment. It’s a relief that you only see it briefly to be honest because any more shots of it and the film would fall apart. The movie was at some point called Monster Hunter and presumably was changed when they realised they couldn’t overplay the word monster or people might have some kind of expectations about the thing. More on that in a minute but the other problem I have with the film is also a digital one.
This is the third film I’ve watched this weekend where the colour grading has undermined what I’ve been watching. I get that it’s meant to be set in the dead of winter and that it was probably shot in summer so some tweaking was necessary to make it look colder but come on! Desaturating a movie until it’s almost monochrome and then dumping a load of blue on it is not a good way to go about it. It stops the film looking in any way realistic. Maybe if it was badly shot in the first place that would be a problem but there are some lovely compositions here and it is nicely filmed in general. I’ll be ranting more about this in the future I’m sure so I’ll move on for now but still… Grrrr….
So back to the monster… If you’ve not seen this film yet skip the rest of the paragraph as its a bit spoilery. Right, so the monster is bad, we’ve established that. It’s a poorly created monstrosity that looks more like something from the Syfy channel than in a decent film. Poor Heller must have slapped himself in the face when that thing popped up on his monitor. But it’s also weirdly designed. The whole film goes on about about how bloody cold it is, and what with those three toe hoof prints who wasn’t thinking it was some kind of devilish beast with at least a modicum of fur to keep the chill out? But when it actually shows up its an incredibly generic lizard man/predator thing. It doesn’t fit the film at all. The very worst is the final shot of loads of them running all over a church and then one popping at the front up and screaming at the audience. That moment doesn’t even feel like the same film at all. We’ve just had a long, character driven, slow burn of a movie leading up to the final conflict and then in its dying seconds we get something like an incompetent Underworld rip off. It’s so odd. I’d love to know what happened there that we ended up with this travesty.
Anyway, forget all that. Dark Was The Night defies its drawbacks and is a film you should watch if you like a good monster movie, even with when it has a bad monster.