REVIEW: DEAD NIGHT Delivers Creepy Fun That Overcomes Foreshadowing Issues
The cabin in the woods horror film subgenre gets an intriguing if uneven, new entry in director Bradford Baruh’s Dead Night (originally a 2017 film festival entry under the title Applecart before reportedly going through editing changes). This supernatural tale concerning a family and a mysterious woman they take in after finding her freezing in the nearby forest offers plenty of eerie chills and engaging performances.
Casey Pollack (Brea Grant of Rob Zombie’s Halloween and H2; Beyond the Gates) brings her family on a trip to a remote cabin that allegedly has new age healing properties. Her husband James (AJ Bowen of You’re Next and The Sacrament) has terminal cancer, and the couple is hoping that the structure might help miraculously heal him. Along for the trip are Casey and James’ teenagers Jessica (Sophie Dalah) and Jason (Joshua Hoffman), and Jessica’s friend Becky (Elise Luthman).
As heavy snow sets in, James finds a woman freezing in the nearby woods. Though the family and Becky have no idea who she is, viewers are already privy to this information — which leads us to a problem that this reviewer had with Dead Night. The film is structured in such a way that it holds very few surprises. Through the device of using a true crime television show called “Inside Crime” to telegraph the fate that befalls Casey and the others, as well as political ads involving the mystery woman, many opportunities for tension, are lost as viewers wait for certain incidents to take place.
That woman in question is politician Leslie Bison (Barbara Crampton in a terrific performance), and she has her reasons for being there — diabolical ones. Her behavior goes from odd and awkward to bizarre and deadly, with the proceedings going to gory and thrilling places.
Though Dead Night may have some issues with pacing and forecasting of events, the film has plenty of positive things going for it. Crampton’s turn is outstanding, as she inhabits her gleefully evil character delightfully and shows viewers a side not seen in her previous performances. The rest of the cast is solid as well, with Grant shining in her role as a terrified mother taking gruesome matters into her own hands.
Dead Night establishes from the beginning that something supernatural is afoot, and it is the blood-soaked, murderous sort rather than merely creaking doors and things seen out of the corner of the eye. The film has a dark, playful sense of humor as well, though it does not cross the line into sheer horror–comedy territory. A slight nostalgic nod to 1980s fear fare is also present. Fans of occult cinema and those looking for an original offering with a different vibe than remakes and heavier horror fare should have fun with this twisted movie.