Wednesday 3 October 2018

Dead Night (US 2017: Dir Brad Baruh)

Parents Casey and James, their teenage kids Jason and Jessica and Jessica's friend Becky head out to Oregon for a snowy spring cabin retreat in, you guessed it, the woods. The cabin is renowned for its revitalising powers, being built on iron oxide deposits, and the aim of their stay is to help heal James, who has been diagnosed with cancer. But the woods hold other mysteries too. In a 1961 prologue, a young courting couple are attacked by some weird figures who capture the female half of the pair and impregnate her. The resultant quick-as-you-like birth - also a girl - will be important to the story. Cut to the present day, and James and Jason find an unconscious woman while out searching for firewood. Bringing her back to the cabin, the stranger turns out to be Leslie Bison, who just happens to be running for governor, and who is probably old enough to have been born in 1961. Ms Bison turns out to be a whole heap of trouble and before we know it the entire family are in jeopardy.

First time director Brad Baruh was producer of one previous feature, Phantasm Ravager, and Dead Night is on occasion similarly inventive. The cleverest element of the movie occurs a little way in, when the story is interrupted by a faux reconstruction of the events in the film we're about to see via a TV show, 'Inside Crime', which in its more prosaic (and incorrect) retelling of the future horrific events paints Casey as the slayer of the family, dubbing her 'Axe Mom.' it's a smart way of heightening the tension.

Unfortunately from here on in there's too much poorly explained oddness as the movie progresses, and what could be a clever meta Cabin in the Woods style outing breaks down into a combination of folk horror, old school effects and occasionally silly exposition which goes off in too many directions. If this feels like a film that has been pulled apart in the editing suite, that's because it is -  originally released as Applecart, it was severely re-jigged following a poor critical reception.

Scream queen for our times Barbara Crampton gets a meaty role as Bison, and pretty much carries the film; the rest of the characters are little more than sketched in. The snow covered woods look beautiful though (although some snowless scenes confuse), and there's some good effects sequences on display by Chris Gallagher and Erik Porn (I kid you not) - I haven't seen bladder work like this since Paul Clemens turned into a giant cicada in 1982's The Beast Within. The forest creatures (named 'The Ladies') are also pleasantly weird and rather nasty. I just wish the story could have been less jumbled. Moderately entertaining then, mainly because of the performances and the look of the thing, but a bit of a wasted opportunity with the talent available.

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