September 11, 2018 Dead Night (Movie Review)
From the team that brought you 2012’s John Dies at the End comes Dead Night, a new Horror offering that implores you to look deeper. Prepare to step into the woods on Tuesday, September 11, 2018, when Dead Night comes to DVD thanks to Dark Sky Films.
In the beautiful, snow-covered town of Mount Ryerson, Oregon, the Pollack family have rented a cabin in the woods. This is not just any cabin, no: it is situated atop a large deposit of iron oxide that is supposed to realign the body’s functioning and boost the energy of its inhabitants. Not exactly sold on this hoodoo, James (AJ Bowen: The Signal 2007, You’re Next 2011) humors his wife Casey (Brea Grant: Halloween II 2009, Dexter series), who hopes that this respite in the woods will be just what her husband’s health needs. Along for the ride are the couple’s teenagers – Jessica (Sophie Dalah: Unbroken 2014, Satanic 2016) and Jason (Joshua Hoffman: Criminal Minds series, Code Black series) – as well as Jessica’s friend Becky (Elise Luthman: CSI: Crime Scene Investigation series, Henry Danger series).
Almost as soon as the family have unloaded their luggage and Casey has begun preparations for dinner, while out looking for firewood, James stumbles upon a woman, political candidate Leslie Bison (Barbara Crampton: Re-Animator 1985, You’re Next 2011), lying face-down in the snow. As the cabin’s inhabitants set about getting help for their visitor, a series of events will unfold that will leave only one of them left standing, axe in hand. The question you must ask yourself is this: is Casey Pollack really the sociopathic “Axe Mom” or did something very different, something unexplainable happen in these woods?
Clocking in at 82 minutes in-length, Dead Night is a directorial debut for Brad Baruh, who previously worked on such films as the aforementioned John Dies at the End (2012) and 2013’s Insidious: Chapter 2, and was written by Baruh with Irving Walker. It also stars Kay D’Arcy (The Attic Door 2009, Imperfect Sky 2015) as Becky’s grandma, Lily; Daniel Roebuck (The Fugitive 1993, Final Destination 2000), as Inside Crime reporter Jack Sterling; Joy Osmanski (Devious Maids series, Santa Clarita Diet series) as realtor Mika Shand; and Sky Soleil (NCIS series, Straight Outta Compton 2015) as Detective Walker.
When it comes to Dead Night, let’s just get this out of the way: it’s strange, it’s creepy, it’s a little bit deranged – and this all makes it marvelous! There is offbeat humor, a woman giving birth in the woods, severed heads, enough blood to melt the snow, and plenty of practical effects that keep the film feeling like a heavy nod to old school 1980s Horror. You know, the glory days! Here, a peculiar, somewhat mystifying script anchors a tale that is odd enough to keep its viewer engaged, but not so quirky as to be ridiculous or drowned in Velveeta; it’s the perfect blend of jump scares, completely baffling “wtf” moments, and totally off-kilter snickers.
Okay, so, the less you know, the better off you are. In the interest of keeping you in the dark, let’s just discuss the cast, who do a splendid job in their varying roles. Grant (as Mom Casey) takes the lead as a perfectly kind, mild-mannered, next door type mom who is trying to do the best for her family and ends up slinging an axe. Bowen (James), Dalah (Jessica), and Hoffman (Jason) do a good job at portraying the average, upper-middle-class American family, though none of them is given a particularly stand-out role. Credit where credit is due: Bowen does a great job of injecting a dose of comedy into his lines, and casting was spot-on in pairing Grant and Dalah as mother-daughter. However, of the teenagers, it is Luthman (Becky) who is given the most to work with, and she does a superb job of being a convincing, wide-eyed, sweet-spoken teen who loves her grandma, and is willing to run for her life.
Here, the cast standouts are clearly Crampton, as Leslie Bison, a cold and calculating woman with a clear agenda; the perfect political candidate. Crampton does a great job of making the viewer’s skin crawl with just the power and persuasion in her voice, which is impressive and makes her beautifully-suited to her bizarre role. D’Arcy, as grandma Lily, is equally powerful in her performance of an ailing grandmother: a soft-spoken, gentle little old lady who might be more than meets the eye. But that’s all we’ll say about that!
Shot in stunning Lake Tahoe, California, with beautiful aerial landscape photography and a lush, snowy topography, Dead Night is a film that looks great and, thanks to its original script and great ensemble cast, it is fully enjoyable, as well. Considering that much of today’s Horror is either not actually Horror, or is completely boring or cliché, Dead Night takes chances and they pay off in an unique, if a bit mad (the good kind), ride in the name of real, old school Horror.
While it is certainly not a film that is easy to describe without giving away the entire plot, the oddness and creep-factor present in Dead Night are what make it so very delicious in the most awkward sense of the word. For these reasons, CrypticRock give Dead Night 4 of 5 stars. Stay ’til the end of the credits!