Dead Night tells the story of a mother and her family trekking to the Oregon wilderness as a last ditch effort to treat her husband’s cancer through new age healing methods. Rather than the peaceful weekend of relaxation and healing they were hoping for, the trip turns into a hellish nightmare laced with murderous shenanigans and outright tomfoolery.
As a Portlander, the film being set in my home state of Oregon was intriguing and what initially inspired me to check it out. I’m glad I did. Like a lot of offerings from Dark Sky, Dead Night is well worth a look.
The film takes a unique and sometimes disorienting approach to its narrative. The story is told through a series of excerpts from news footage related to the events that are transpiring, as well as depicting the events as they unfold from the perspective of the characters. I wasn’t sure what to make of it at first but after all is explained, the approach made more sense and gave the viewer a certain amount of food for thought after the film’s conclusion. There are a couple of unexpected twists and turns along the way that should keep things interesting for the audience.
First time director Brad Baruh shows promise in his feature film debut. He lures the viewer into a false sense of security early on and slowly ratchets up the tension until things go completely off the rails.
The film is beautifully photographed, with the recently fallen snow serving as the perfect backdrop for the buckets of blood that are spilled throughout the picture’s runtime.
Dead Night is short and punchy. The end credits start to roll at the 75-minute mark, which is just about perfect. The film never overstays its welcome and its brief runtime ensure that the picture is effectively paced and rarely meanders. Make sure to stick around after the credits conclude for a brief post-credit sequence that effectively teases at the possibility of a sequel.
The effects are a mix of practical and CGI. The practical FX work is phenomenal, while some of the CG is questionable. Case in point: The tongue scene in the woods. The mix is roughly 80/20 with 80% bring practical and 20% digital.
The film is cast with several faces that will be familiar to horror fans. Brea Grant (who appeared in Rob Zombie’s Halloween II) plays Casey, the mother and wife attempting to aid in her husband’s healing by way of a trip to the Oregon wilderness. There is a duality to her performance. She is equal parts ferocious and vulnerable, depending on the situation. She’s a relatable character in her plight to protect her loved ones.
A.J. Bowen plays Casey’s husband James. It’s somewhat unexpected to see the actor portraying the father of two teenage children but he rises to the occasion with grace and ease and is as likable as ever.
It’s interesting to see Barbara Crampton playing a different character than what we’re used to. To say any more than that would be a spoiler. So, I will just leave it at that. But, I think fans of the prolific actress will enjoy her turn as Leslie in Dead Night.
While the performances from the core cast were good, Irving Walker’s screenplay didn’t give the supporting actors a great deal to work with. Daughter Jessica (Sophie Dalah of Satanic) is written as the stereotypical rebellious teenager that engages in the deviant behavior that is smoking cigarettes and indulges in tired cliches like constantly rolling her eyes at her well-meaning parents. Dalah makes the most of the role but, given more to work with could have been a much more engaging supporting character. Jessica’s brother Jason (Joshua Hoffman) has minimal screentime but certainly turns in a serviceable performance.
Another issue I had with the screenplay is that precious little backstory is given. I am usually a believer that less is more. But it is possible to reveal too little and frustrate your audience in the process. I’ll always take too little over too much but Dead Night could have benefitted from allowing the viewer in on a little bit more of what was driving the events at play in the film.
Dead Night is now available on DVD from Dark Sky. It’s well worth a look for any horror fan seeking something that’s a little out of the ordinary and offers a few twists and turns along the way.
WICKED RATING: 6.5/10
Director(s): Brad Baruh
Writer(s): Irving Walker
Stars: Brea Grant, A.J. Bowen, Barbara Crampton
Release: September 11, 2018 Home Video
Studio/ Production Co: Dark Sky