Review: Dead Night

Dead NightThere aren’t a whole lot of reasons to watch Dead Night. There are many impressive gore effects, but there’s no genuine terror behind them. The way cinematographer Kenton Drew Johnson captures the snowy wilderness is nothing short of hypnotic and sensuous. The elegant, otherworldly work from Johnson provides the heavy lifting for a weak script. 

The plot, the plot…where to begin. After a violent prologue set in the 60’s that does nothing for the narrative, we cut to present day where a family is traveling to a secluded cabin to not only get away for the weekend but to also test the supposed healing powers of the rock deposit that the cabin sits on. You see, the husband, James Pollack (AJ Bowen) has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and this trip represents their last attempt to save his life. Along for the weekend is Casey Pollack (Brea Grant), their children Jessica (Sophie Dalah) and Jason (Joshua Hoffman), and lastly Jessica’s best friend, Becky (Elise Luthman).

Right after we’re informed that there’s no wifi, James discovers a woman unconscious in the snow. Once brought back to the cabin, the woman, Leslie Bison (a game Barbara Crampton), turns out to be a candidate for governor. Unfortunately for the family, this guest is anything but comforting, asking inappropriate personal questions and laughing at statements that are clearly threatening. It’s once James attempts to kick her out that things get weird. And weirder. And weirder. And meandering. 

Dead Night introduces a crime-show gimmick that chronicles the horrors we’re following. The crimes have been placed on Casey, giving her the moniker “Axe-Mom.” Which story are we supposed to believe? The narrative that Bison is bringing demonic forces into the setting, or the fact that the mother has gone insane and it’s all in her head? 

There are a few twists that director Brad Baruh and screenwriter Irving Walker attempt to toss at the audience. The problem is that the film shows its hand way too early, so we know what’s going on, even as the film still attempts to fool us. 

The bizarre proceedings quickly descend into tongue-in-cheek, but there’s no time to laugh. It is unable to walk that fine line that Sam Raimi has built a career around. The narrative becomes so convoluted that you’re stuck head tilted in confusion as opposed to laughing. Between the crime show and the hooded figures, the film continues to be its own enemy. As something interesting begins to happen, it introduces something new.

The performances are quite good. AJ Bowen continues his trend of awkwardly funny, and his chemistry with Brea Grant is honest and loving (even though Grant oftentimes looks as young as the actress who plays her daughter). But it’s Barbara Crampton who steals the show with radical glee, especially when the film indulges into Cronenbergian goo.

I wish Dead Night would have done more with both the theme of healing and the theme of mental illness. Of course, The Shining has the ultimate word on descent into madness while secluded, but that’s no reason why a filmmaker can’t at least attempt something new. As it stands, Grant’s questionable insanity serves as an homage to that classic horror story. I was reminded of the recent Evil Dead remake that similarly transported its main protagonist to a cabin to heal. It’s a bone-chilling notion, that you’re sent away to a place you’re supposed to put all your trust into in order to hopefully recover. To be lured by those you depend on only to be betrayed in the worst way is the ultimate nightmare. 

Dead Night is a comatose horror film. You’ll come for the gore, stay for the chilly cinematography, but yawn at the story. 


1 Response to “Review: Dead Night”

  1. Ian

    So did you watch this on bluray? DVD? Theater?

    Where do I find this?