Updated: Oct 12, 2018
★★★ Directed by: Bradford Baruh Starring: Brea Grant, AJ Bowen, Barbara Crampton, Sophie Dalah, Elise Luthman, Joshua Hoffman Grimmfest Film Festival Review by: Darren Tilby
An enjoyable and bloody cabin in the woods romp, with decent SFX and 80s slasher movie type killings, that's let down by poor production design and a disjointed, nonsensical plot.
Casey Pollack, a caring mother of two and devoted wife loses her grip on sanity during, what was supposed to be, a relaxing vacation in the woods; killing her family. Oh, this isn't a spoiler, we're told this very early on, it's the how and why we need to discover. The film uses an interesting dual-plot narrative to explore the night's events: one details what actually happened, and the other, using a True Crime style TV show, details how it was later reported.
It's an interesting narrative choice which for the better part works well, but there are times when it falls a little flat.
The main issue with the plot is that it just doesn't make much sense; something which isn't helped by some very patchy editing and spasmodic cutting. The narrative also suffers from pacing difficulties: there's no build up of tension here, there's no time for it; before we've really had time to settle in the cabin, all hell breaks loose. I believe the film underwent some heavy re-editing shortly before release, which would go some way to explaining these issues.
There's a great cast of characters here: Brea Grant gives a marvelous performance as Casey Pollack; switching from caring mother to psychotic slasher movie material in a snap-of-the-fingers. Barbara Crampton is typically, and equally as terrific and terrifying as Leslie Bison, the mysterious stranger rescued from the woods by the family, and AJ Bowen, Sophie Dalah, Elise Luthman and Joshua Hoffman all give strong performances in their respective roles; making up the rest of the ill-fated Pollack family.
Dead Night's simple but effective cinematography is hampered by poor production design; specifically its sets, which don't look bad as such, but they're very obviously sets, and so I never felt as immersed as I should have: the atmosphere suffers for much the same reason. The soundtrack – while never exceptionally good – is competent enough to hold its own.
The creature and gore effects are where the film really shines: both have an 1980s style charm in their down-to-earth, handcrafted look; something not seen on screen enough these days, and that made the latter half of the film all the more enjoyable for it.
Themes of satanic rituals and witchcraft feature most strongly here. But if you look hard enough, the film acts as a study of family dynamics, religious hypocrisy and the world of 'fake news’: all are examined (to varying degrees of success) in a film wrapped in a 1980s slasher movie packaging.
Dead Night could, no, should have been better: the cast is brilliant, the retro charm is a welcome addition and there's a lot of social-political satire to discover if you want it. But the seeming randomness of the events and lack of atmosphere can't be ignored. However, with all that said and done, Dead Night is still an enjoyable experience overall; one bound to bring back memories of a decade of manic gore-fest horror movies.
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