Starring Kevin Durand, Lukas Haas, Bianca Kajlich
Directed by Jack Heller
From the very opening of Jack Heller’s creature-in-the-woods film, Dark Was the Night, I had a feeling that it was going to be worth some heavy mentioning, and senses don’t fail me now, I was right. The brutal slaughter of a logging foreman by an unseen force was just the right remedy for the current state of cinematic horror “blahs” I’ve been enduring, so let’s hit this sucker head on, shall we?
Kevin Durand, who currently is co-starring in FX’s “The Strain,” takes the lead role as Sheriff Paul Shields in the sleepy small town of Maiden Woods – his marriage is dissolving at a rapid rate, mainly due to his never-ending blame upon himself for the death of his youngest child. His wife, Susan (Kajlich), has forgiven him for the accident; yet, Paul simply cannot shake the cloak of resentment that he harbors for himself, and quite simply, we as the audience feel his pain. Durand has GOT to be commended for his performance in this film, as the grief effortlessly seeps from his sullen face for nearly the entire runtime – powerful conveyance, indeed. His partner is the never aging Lukas Haas in the role of Donny, a former NYPD officer making the leap from the big city to the even bigger woods – he seemed a step behind Durand, but then again not many others could have run neck and neck with him in this film.
Now for our focal point in the film: whatever could be lurking in the woods and wreaking some serious havoc upon the townies – examples in creepiness are spooked and disappearing cattle, hoof-like marks in the dirt, and the meanest scratch marks on metal since Mr. Krueger decided to slip on that ratty ol’ razor-mitten of his many moons ago. Everyone living in town either is frozen in fear or has surmised that this is simply the stuff of legends, and superstition isn’t to be messed with. The film definitely takes its time in the reveal of what’s prowling the forest; yet, you’re not dragged to your death in the viewing pursuit – the gloom and doom of the atmosphere completely acts as a tether to guide you along, and what a tour we’re led on.
Incorrect tempo can be an absolute killer (not intended) in horror films, and if not played correctly, you’ll have the entire shebang blown to hell before the movie can have a chance to developmentally ramp up; however, this is not the case here at all – each and every character plays an integral part in the film’s payoff in a multitude of questions: Will Paul overcome his grief and save the town he’s sworn to protect? Will he reconcile with his wife and pick up the pieces of their shattered marriage? Most importantly, what in the name of Colonel Sanders chicken is rampaging through the woods, shredding all that it encounters?
One piece of this creative puzzle that I’ve failed to mention until now is the complete abandonment of surefire fright tactics such as jump scares and spastic camera redirections, specifically designed to obtain some type of reaction from the audience. Instead, the ever-present looming “what and where is it?” factor works like a charm. If I had to pick on a negative, it would be the reveal itself, and I’m not the type to ruin a film for potential viewers, but let’s just say that the end result is less than spectacular, but no worries, people – this is one of those watches where the journey is 100 times better than the arrival, and with the absolute rock-solid work performance-wise by the cast, Dark Was yhe Night is a trip into the woods that not only will give you chills, but provide you with the urge to press “play” over and over again. Highly recommended.
The Cured Review – Ellen Page Fights for Her Life
Written and directed by David Freyne
Taking a cue from AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” the new Irish horror film The Cured begins where most zombie stories end. Drawing more comparisons, the themes of mistrust and social upheaval are front and center here as well. We’re the real villains, and the infectious disease turning humans into monsters is only there to hold up a mirror to show the worst sides of ourselves. The Cured uses the zombie mythos as Romero intended as a commentary on culture, with a little cannibalism thrown in for good measure.
Against the backdrop of a military takeover attempting to reintroduce the recently cured back into society, two people try to return to some kind of normalcy in a war-torn Ireland that’s been turned upside down by the zombie menace. Recently widowed, Abbey (Page) allows her now virus-free brother-in-law Senan (Keeley) to live with her and her son, even though most survivors are forced to live in an army encampment. Under constant surveillance, Senan’s old friend Conor (Vaughan-Lawlor) radicalizes the mistreated survivors of the virus into open rebellion.
The treatment of the survivors isn’t entirely unfair considering that they still have a connection and are not detected by a small percentage of the infected that haven’t responded to the cure. As both sides size each other up, Abbey and Senan are caught in the middle as they try to restore their humanity before the powder keg around them erupts.
Given its far out premise, the story stays firmly grounded in reality, focusing on the growing resistance and its political implications, drawing parallels to the protest movements such as the “Black Block” that have dominated some recent news cycles. When the virus divided the population, it was easy to know what side you were on; now, the cure has created a new class structure where the lower class is maligned until they cross the line and overthrow the uninfected. Clearly still affected and haunted by the heinous acts they committed when they were infected, the cannibalistic rage they still carry reflects the rage felt by the mistreated masses hellbent on overthrowing the powers-that-be.
Whether for budget reasons or simply a style choice, the eating frenzies that occurred before the cure are never fully shown so any gore and graphic images that could’ve been showcases for effects are left to the imagination. Maybe they weren’t shown because these acts were so unspeakable that they are too horrific to see and too painful to fully be remembered by the survivors. The top-notch sound design ratchets up instead and roars to life to the point where just hearing the carnage is enough to make you turn away.
Page’s performance is the emotional core of the film as she goes from understanding to fear to dealing with the ultimate betrayal. It’s important for a slow-developing story like this to have an actress with some star power, and director David Freyne and his team were fortunate to have a high caliber actress ready to deliver in some of the film’s quieter, more intense moments. Freyne directs these smaller character moments with care and also delivers once things open up to show the inevitable anarchy brimming under the surface.
The Cured may feel too closed off at times to allow its bigger ideas to fully breathe, but it never pretends to encompass a more epic scope that would be more in the vein of something like World War Z. Without ever addressing it directly, Freyne, as an Irishman, seems well aware of the history of the country; and he and cinematographer Piers McGrail inject their film with a pathos that makes Dublin come to life inside the world of the undead.
The Cured is a gritty take on the genre that fits nicely into the new type of storytelling that these stories need to embrace in a post-Romero world.
Bad Apples Review – Rotten Fruit, Indeed
Starring Brea Grant, Graham Skipper, Alycia Lourim
Directed by Brian Coyne
Like a seriously bad rash, some films stick with you regardless of whichever topical ointment you slather in generous fashion over your regions – ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce today’s orbital irritant: Bad Apples.
Directed (rather misdirected) by Brian Coyne, this lamentably sterile piece of celluloid follows a couple of murderous sisters, donning horrific (and not in a good sense) masks, and generally putting the sharp edges to random folk on Halloween night…case closed. Only problem here is this: the film has no pulse, no interesting characters to speak of, and basically nothing to redeem or recapture the time that you’ll have spent watching this complete dud. A husband and wife duo has a spotlight on them as well, but their tempestuous relationship makes rooting for them about as pleasing as sitting through 3 hours of Olympic curling…absolutely brutal. Also, you’re reading the babblings of a guy who loves to put the boots to any film that has been deemed “unwatchable”, but this complete wreck of a production is entirely that – something so remedial and uninspired that to type an endless array of rightful vitriol would be an utter waste of time.
So I’ll go on a bit longer with my public display of vehemence, as the casting seems WAY out of whack, and the production? Whoa…don’t even get me started on this – okay, I’ll go on a bit. With differing levels of sound editing, you’ll get the feeling at times like you could pick up a needle drop inside of a concert hall, and other frames of dialogue are so muddled they’re incomprehensible (not like you’ll feel the need to know what’s going on). Wonky camera angles and following shots are so horrendously captured, you’ll be wishing to watch your Mom and Dad’s old home movies just to gain a sense of stability. I normally pride myself on not begging this particular audience to take what I say to heart, or to shy away from something that could potentially ruin their eyesight, but believe me when I plead with you: do not waste your valuable time on this shipwreck – even if your time isn’t all that valuable: don’t waste it. Find something else to do and take a big ol’ pass on this wannabe slasher.
I don’t mean to pick on the low-hanging fruit, but these Apples should be batted away with a Louisville Slugger.
Edge of Isolation Review – A Movie with a Simple Message: Don’t Trust Anyone
Starring Michael Marcel, Marem Hassler, Alexandra Peters
Directed by Jeff Houkal
Sometimes, relying on the kindness of strangers is the thing that’ll do your gullible asses in – kindness? Strangers? Come on – think about it! Even further proof of said warning comes in the form of director Jeff Houkal’s brutally blatant film, Edge Of Isolation – won’t you come inside and grab a seat? You see! You fell right into another trap – jeezus, people…don’t trust just anyone, will ya?
Set up in a simplistic format, we’ve got a traveling couple (Lance and Kendra) whose Jeep, conveniently enough decides to shit the bed along a desolate stretch of roadway, leaving them at the mercy of the Polifer family, a slightly odd bunch of backwoods residents. This particular clan isn’t exactly wrapped too tightly, and they’re not afraid to let their freak flags fly, that’s for sure. You see, the family has been deeply-rooted in these here woods, and their “hospitality” has kept them fed for quite some time, and with a fresh supply of unsuspecting commuters stopping in at varying spells, their stomachs never truly seem to growl out of sustained hunger…oh, that kindness will bite you in the ass every single waking moment.
As I mentioned earlier, the film is constructed fairly simple, yet effective in its barbarism, and those who dig survivalist-horror will be wringing their mitts in anticipation for this one. While some editing does look a bit hokey, the practical effects more than make up for an at-times bit of strewn-about plot navigation, but who’s keeping score? Certainly not me, that’s for sure. I absolutely revel in low-budgeted films that don’t necessarily have the looks and feels of such, and Edge Of Isolation is one of those presentations that is certainly worth its weight in blood and guts – do yourself a solid and give this one a look when it becomes available to the masses, and for f**k’s sake, don’t take up anyone’s offer to chill at their place when your ride breaks down – get AAA and save your life (the previous statement was in no way affiliated or endorsed by the Triple A Automotive group – just sayin’).
Edge Of Isolation doesn’t need a full-blown allocation to keep future stranded motorists from losing their heads – all they have to do is push “play.”
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