Old-School Small-Town Horror Indie ‘Dark Was the Night’ Takes Its Time


An ecologically mindful, character-driven drama in an isolated locale with creature-feature spooks, producer-director Jack Heller’s brooding reinterpretation of a man-beast myth might seem fresher if Larry Fessenden’s Wendigo and The Last Winter hadn’t done all that first. (At least the horror here isn’t paranormal, slashing teens, or unearthed in “found footage.”)

Uprooted by a logging company from its forest home 90 miles north, an unidentified cloven-hoofed predator has been spotted in the fictional Podunk of Maiden Woods (Long Island, actually). Meanwhile, two investigating officers — a guilt-ridden, self-doubting sheriff still grieving for his dead son (The Strain‘s Kevin Durand), and his likewise traumatized deputy, Donny (Lukas Haas) — mope through their community and mutual backstories like they’re auditioning for the third season of True Detective.

Working from a 2009 Black List script by Tyler Hisel, the narrative strikes a mostly sensible (if overly earnest) ratio of inner-turmoil human theater to B-movie monster hunt, before ultimately tilting toward the classic drive-in with climactic siege action and old-school effects.

Points to gifted DP Ryan Samul and to Heller for taking his sweet time to tease out the varmint’s appearance, but let this be a case study for filmmakers everywhere: Scenes centered on search-engine discoveries will never, ever be cinematic.

Dark Was the Night
Directed by Jack Heller
RLJE/Image Entertainment
Opens July 24, AMC Empire 25