Hey, how about this? Looks like we’ve got two modern-day “creature features” in a row on our humble little review site here, since we’re following up 2014’s fun, blood-soaked monster movie Animal with another flick from the very same year, Dark Was The Night, that treads much the same ground and is also, in keeping with our theme for the month, available for your enjoyment (hopefully, at any rate) in Netflix’s instant streaming queue.
Shot on Long Island. director Jack Keller’s deliberately-paced, cool-blue-tinted opus takes a bit of getting used to from a visual standpoint, but by and large the limited color palette he employs is reasonably effective and communicates a sense of dread and unease throughout without tipping over into “a little too self-consciously stylish for its own good” territory. It comes close a times, mind you, but on the whole it just manages to maintain its balance.
A fairly straightforward storyline certainly helps, and while Dark Was The Night may have a modern look, screenwriter Tyler Hisel’s script is old-school all the way, and I mean that as a compliment. Having recently lost his son, sheriff Paul Shields (played by Kevin Durand) of the fictitious town of Maiden Woods is now in danger of losing his marriage, given that his wife, Susan (sympathetically portrayed by Bianca Kajilch) has split for her mother’s place with their surviving child, Adam (Ethan Khusidman) in order to get her head together. If that wasn’t bad enough in of itself, though, while investigating the disappearance of a farmer’s horse, Shields and his just-arrived-from-New-York partner/subordinate, Donny Saunders (Lukas Haas — who’s all grown up now!) discover strange footprints and other evidence that their original “must’a left the gate open” theory probably won’t put the matter to rest. Could the recently-undertaken logging operations of a dastardly big corporation have awoken an ancient evil in the forest?
The short answer, of course, is yes — in fact, they not only could, but they did. Which is all pretty cut-and-dried, to be sure, but fortunately for us all there’s a lot here that elevates Dark Was The Night a few notches above the standard formula. Not that we have anything against the standard formula around these parts, mind you, but a terrific lead performance from Durand (who is more than ready for his turn as an “A-list” action hero), an overall tone set by Heller that is part M. Night Shyamalan and part J.J. Abrams, and a nicely-realized-indeed monster that makes its appearance at precisely the right time all go some way toward making sure this particular flick stands out from the pack.
On the “minus” side of the ledger, it’s gotta be said that there’s nothing on offer here that’s really all that scary per se, and Heller could cut loose and have a bit more fun with his material rather than taking the decidedly serious approach he does more or less from start to finish, but what the heck? It’s an interesting and effective piece of work on the whole that never causes your attention to wane from the screen, and in this day and age that’s apparently getting more and more difficult to do, so — kudos to all involved for a job (mostly) well done.
Admittedly, I still have yet to find so much as a single “unheralded classic” hiding among the horror offerings currently available on Netflix, but movies like Dark Was The Night at least prove that not everything they have right now is total crap.