Friday, October 9, 2015

Dark Was the Night (2015)

There's been a pretty big interest in a certain mythological creature recently and I'm totally okay with that. That creature being the Wendigo. The basic idea of these things is fairly simple: if you eat human flesh you become a creature that hungers relentlessly for it, feasting on whatever people are unlucky enough to cross your path. But it actually goes further than that too, as the evil spirit can actually get inside of you via your dreams or if you say its name. This is also one of those things that actually does creep me right the fuck out. And it's not the idea of meeting one that scares me, which is pretty scary. No, it's the idea of becoming one that truly frightens me.

Even Rami Malek is a lot less handsome as one, which I thought was impossible.

Now before people mock me for being spooked by an old legend or complain that I spoiled something from a new video game when spoilers tend to be a thing here, let me just stop you. Everyone is scared of something. I used to think the thing I was most afraid of was being alone, but I've actually gotten a bit used to that idea after a while. No, what I fear most is the loss of self. Not being me anymore, that scares me. More than being shot, falling from a great height, having a knife plunge into me repeatedly, or being trapped in a room of spiders. I don't know if I believe in Heaven, but I do hope that after this body dies I continue to exist as a consciousness, because the idea of no longer being me is a bit much for me to handle. Sorry to get so existential on you all, but its all kind of tied together for me.

They're sewn together, but it's close enough.
 That's really all I can think to say as a preamble, so let's get this turkey in the oven. In the beginning, we see loggers doing what loggers tend to do, but one crew seems to be missing at closing time. This leads the guy in charge to go check on them after hearing something weird through his radio when he tries to call them. He finds a deserted site and a dismembered limb, which causes him some obvious distress. He runs back to his truck, but too little too late as the creature breaks in and rips him apart.

Either that or they're both enjoying copious amounts of strawberry preserves and might need some wet naps.
Now that the guy who obviously only existed to be killed off has died, we move on to the actual story. Ninety miles south in the town of Maiden Woods we're introduced to Sheriff Paul Shields and his new deputy, Donny Saunders. I'm not entirely sure where Maiden Woods is, but I'm going to guess it's fairly close to Canada as it looks like the sort of place where long sleeves are fairly normal. The two officers are investigating a missing horse but there's no real evidence leading anywhere, which frustrates the owner to the point that he threatens them if he loses another one. Donny figures that such a level-headed guy won't mind if he eyes his daughter. I know where that stuff leads.

That's a game you don't want to play, Donny. Trust me.
Paul goes to pick up his son, Adam, at his mother-in-law's house where his estranged wife is staying. Now, there's really no good time to bring it up and it's not really something I can make light of, so I'll just lay it out right here. The reason they're separated is because their other son died and Paul blames himself for it. As a result of this you can see how visibly strained he is in every decision he makes. He's clearly a very conflicted a depressed man who is struggling to hold on for his son. His wife seems to have coped with the loss, but Paul seems to prefer not to bring it up. I can understand that, it's painful to lose a loved one and especially one so very young. As such, throughout the film you see the weight on him quite visible in how he carries himself. And now, the distract you all from the truly sad thing I just laid on you, here's Barry Burton and one of many quotes of his I will be using because our lead actor played him in a bad movie.

"I told you don't worry. I'll just go and get some fresh air and try not to be eaten by a monster."
Anyway, Adam asks Donny why he left the big city to come live there, to which Donny replies "it was too big and too noisy", not wanting to tell the boy the true horrors he left behind in New York City. Horrors that will haunt him every night for the rest of his life. Things that make him dry heave every single time he remembers them.

The screams pour from my echoing nightmares like bile from a thousand demons crying out for sweet release.
Susan, Paul's estranged wife, tries to talk Paul into getting some help, but he shrugs it off and brings his son home with him as he fixes him some french toast. Adam asks when she can come home, which Paul has no easy answer for. Adam asks if it's because of Tim, his dead brother, but his father assures him it isn't. Then, before you forget that this is actually a horror film, the boy sees something in the backyard and Paul heads there to check it out. This brings us to the big thing that separates this film from a lot of other modern horror films: tension and mood. There are no irritating assholes you're looking forward to seeing die, no cheap jumpscares, there are just interesting characters and a foreboding presence lingering on the fringes of their periphery...waiting to tear them apart.

Sorry, Until Dawn fans, because this Wendigo isn't quite as keen on being seen.
The next morning, after finding nothing in his yard, Donny shows up to tell Paul about the hoof prints outside. They run through the entire town and they happen to trail right past the window where Adam said he saw something, with is more than enough to bother our hero. He figures that it's a really elaborate prank though, but still isn't happy about the trespassing. Part of why he figures it's a prank is the fact that the spacing is wrong for most hoofed animals, as this clearly was made by a bipedal thing. He calls experts who assure him that there is no such animal, which only makes him more sure of his theory. But then...there's the claw marks that he's seemingly trying not to think about with this theory.

"What? What is this?"
While the two cops try to figure things out, the townsfolk continue to get antsy about the whole thing. Not helping matters is the fact that many pets in town have gone missing, which doesn't seem to worry Paul but I know it's got my hackles up. The local preacher tries to talk to Paul about things, Donny finds some photos of Paul's dead son, and some townsfolk confront Paul in the local shop about the suspected creature roaming about. He assures them there is no creature out there, but this Native guy named Jim thinks it might be something from his granddaddy's stories.

"Gramps had this book called Mister Babadook. It was a pop-up book. I think he gave it away though."
Afterwards, Paul has a conversation with Earl, a local man who he values the opinion of, who tells him that despite it being deer season not a single one has been around. He even goes on to say that he hasn't seen any animals, saying that they might possibly feel threatened into leaving. Paul goes once more to pick up Adam, but instead he ends up getting roped into a conversation with his wife about where he is mentally and how all the kids are saying the thing that made the tracks is the devil. On the drive home, Paul is confronted with the reality that something if wrong when he and his son see the mysterious creature again an he pursues it, telling Adam to stay in the car.He finds no creature, but he does find a dog collar...sans the dog. I'm sure there's a reasonable explanation for that that doesn't involve a horrible flesh eating monster lurking about.

Maybe it's just Max invading another movie to swallow everyone's pets whole. He's good at that.
Back at the truck, Adam is gone and this stirs Paul into a panic as he looks for his son. He finds him inside a nearby building where he tells Paul that he ran inside because he heard something outside of the car moving around. At this point, Paul is starting to get spooked by whatever this is. Meanwhile at the bar, Donny gets to catch a ride on that same spooky train when Earl tells him about the legends and the local deaths where people were found up in the trees in the past. From there, Paul and Susan get called into the school because Adam apparently said something offensive. What'd he say that was worth calling them in?

"What IS it?!"
After the parents laugh at the obvious ridiculousness of that, the teacher flips her switch from stupid to irritating bitch real fast as she then says the Adam still refers to his dead brother in the present tense, which she believes is unhealthy. Susan tells her she can go fuck herself and I nearly stand up to applaud. Things start to escalate from here as Susan tells Donny about Tim's death and how Paul blames himself, some hunters end up dead, and Paul looks up stuff about Wendigos and tells Donny he thinks whatever is out there killing was likely driven to their town but the logging operation north of them. Then, to confirm the fact that something different is literally out there causing issues, it breaks into Paul's house as he hides with his son afraid of what might happen. Donny shows up in the nick of time to save them and even manages not to get killed himself.

Which has less to do with the shotgun and more to do with him being lucky the Wendigo is scared of his siren.
Paul says they need to gather all the people in town in the church so they can defend themselves until the rangers show up, as he called them for help after finding the dead hunters earlier. But, sadly, the Wendigo is less a fan of waiting for them to get help, so it decides to lay siege to the place. Paul has every get in the basement with Jim and Earl defending the door while he and Donny go after the thing, which has now entered the building. As they search for it, Donny gets hurt but manages to do some damage to the thing before Paul finds him.

"Hope this isn't Donny's blood..."
But Donny is alive and it informs his boss he hurt the thing, which seems to have helped him stand up to his own demons regarding his having been shot and leaving to work here rather than face the guilt of blaming himself for his partner dying. But Donny isn't really in fighting shape anymore, so Paul goes it alone as he goes out to face the large creature and boy, is it actually pretty menacing. We get our first real look at it and it's pretty ugly. Paul fights it, getting hurt, but ultimately disembowels the thing with his knife, ending the threat. Everyone comes up to find our injured heroes and they all breathe a sigh of relief...until Donny points out that he shot it in the shoulder, taking a whole chunk out of it. Why is that important? Well. because the Wendigo body doesn't have any such wound. Cue a falsh to outside the church as we see multiple Wendigos crawling on the building in the storm and our film comes to a close, leaving us wondering the fates of the people of Maiden Woods.

It could always be worse though. They could be Mormons.
Personally, I like to imagine they survived. If the teenagers of Until Dawn can survive an onslaught of Wendigos, I think some people with guns and gumption might be able to pull through. After all, they've got Barry Burton for a sheriff. And while I don't really think he was a great Barry, the movie he played him in was basically doomed from the start, so it can hardly be blamed on Durand. As it stands, he's a very talented actor who really shines in this movie. I always wanted to see what he could do in a leading role and he did not disappoint as the deeply conflicted hero of our story. And when that Wendigo was on top of him, I was worried we were going to be seeing him sacrifice himself to save everyone.

"That was too close! He almost became a Paul sandwich!"
This movie is a horror movie, no doubt, but it stands out in the modern crop of films because it plays out slowly, building on the characters and their own histories more than it does on the background of the creature that is terrorizing them. This is a movie, as I stated earlier, that is about building tension and mood. It's something I worried was lost in the medium as people desperately try to ape tired formulas that have no substance, relying mainly on jumpscares to get a reaction rather than let the mood build and allow the people to feel it creeping up them.

Sometimes...quite literally.
This year has given me hope for horror movies going forward. Hope that they won't all be Cabin Fever, Hostel, or Saw clones. Hope that we'll see less remakes and more original stories with compelling characters and actors getting to shine in the roles. I highly recommend watching this movie, especially if you are willing to give your attention to something that isn't so desperate for your attention that it has to keep shaking keys in front of your face. So, until Kevin Durand gets some more lead roles where he gets to continue shining, I'll be here being grateful that I got to see something that didn't feel like everything else. Later days, bleeders.

By the way, I think he would be a great Barry Burton in a good Resident Evil movie. Sadly, that won't ever happen.

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