Credit "Dark Was the Night" for focusing on human drama as much as its creature-feature trappings, but discredit it for botching the delivery and payoff. The film, directed by Jack Heller, walks a decidedly tedious, well-trodden path, its story nothing special and its color-graded, heavily desaturated image so extreme that it occasionally threatens to come off as a parody of what so many movies of this ilk look like nowadays. The screenplay by Tyler Hisel falls into irksome habitsnot the least being its provocative, woefully anticlimactic non-ending that cheaply isn't dealt with before cutting to end creditsbut is more adept than the norm in listening to its characters and treating them as genuine people who happen to be in peril from a marauding beast. The results, unfortunately, fall directly into middle-of-the-road territory.
When a horse farmer's prized equine goes missing, Sheriff Paul Shields (Kevin Durand) doesn't think much of it. He has more pressing interpersonal issues to deal withone of his sons died in a tragic accident six months earlier, and he and wife Susan (Bianca Kajlich) have since separatedand figures the horse likely got free and ran off on his own accord. And then blackened, two-legged, three-toed hoof prints appear, running cryptically down the street through the sleepy rural town of Maiden Woods. As Paul and Deputy Donny Saunders (Lukas Haas) begin to investigate, it quickly becomes apparent that a deadly creature of unknown origin is in their midst.
The suggestion of what the creature isa wendigo? The Devil himself?is creepier than what ultimately, very briefly, shows up in the ho-hum, town hall-set finale of "Dark Was the Night." Director Jack Heller's decision to tease his inhuman villain may or may not have been the result of budget constraints, but it was a wise one all the same, building enough curiosity to keep the viewer's attention throughout its decidedly basic, been-there-done-that narrative. The wait isn't worth it, and it is a shame because the milieu of the town itself (population 243) is amiably woven with a few solid performances. It is nice to see former child actor Lukas Haas (2014's "Transcendence
") in a lead role again as Donny Saunders, a big-city officer who has recently moved to this small community under pretenses about which even he isn't sure, and Bianca Kajlich (2011's "30 Minutes or Less
"), as Paul's wife Susan, has a great sucker-punch of a scene where she confronts an out-of-bounds teacher (Minerva Scelza) at son Adam's (Ethan Khusidman) school. As central protagonist Paul, Kevin Durand (2014's "Noah
") takes some getting used to; he plays the role with a defeated, detached demeanor that, as the picture progresses, starts to ring true for his insular, emotionally closed-off character. "Dark Was the Night" is not without a handful of sly, moody touches (the use of shadows and practical effects are far more effective than the turns toward sloppy CG), but when it ends just as it should start ramping up, it is impossible not to walk away less than satisfied.