GORE IN THE STORE
INTERVIEWS FILM BLU-RAY DVD & BOOK REVIEWS
DEAD NIGHT ***
Directed by: Brad Baruh, Starring: Brea Grant, AJ Bowen, Barbara Crampton.
Horror. US 2017, 79mins, Cert 18.
Released on DVD & digital download on 8th October 2018 in the UK by Studiocanal.
Coven in the woods.
Originally titled ‘Applecart’, Brad Baruh’s splattery cabin in the woods riff underwent complete restructuring in post-production. The end result is a tricksy, timey-wimey narrative that pogo sticks back and forth between the present and the future, pulling the rug from under the audience several times with some batshit crazy semi-developed concepts and a generous dollop of honest to goodness practical gore effects.
It starts off normal enough, with the well-worn urban legend trope of a couple of lovers driving out into a secluded part of the woods for a make-out session under the stars. But what’s that, a creepy grinning figure in the foliage? Our lover boy lothario barely has time to step out of the car and declare “Be right back!” to his ‘special girl’ before a hooded figure pounces on him from the undergrowth graphically cutting short date-night. Then things start to get very weird very quickly and we’re given our first inkling that it would be premature to try and pigeonhole this quirky shocker...
That was back in 1961, we are now transported to March 2015 as we follow the Pollock family driving out to a remote cabin (yes, you guessed it) in the woods where cell phone reception is conveniently unreliable and the landline’s sole handset has a dead battery. However, clichéd groans are partly assuaged by the interesting raison d'être offered up for this isolated choice of retreat. Dad ‘James’ (AJ Bowen – YOU’RE NEXT) has been diagnosed with cancer and wife ‘Casey’ (Brea Grant – BEYOND THE GATES) has chosen this particular location because it is built on a deposit of iron oxide which she’s been led to believe generates an energy which she hopes will kick her hubby’s cancer back into remission. In tow are teen siblings Jason (Joshua Hoffman), and Jessica (Sophie Dalah) who has brought friend Becky (Elise Luthman) along to alleviate the anticipated boredom. As night falls, along with a thick blanket of snow, dad sets off into the woods in search of firewood but instead finds an unconscious woman (genre legend Barbara Crampton). Reviving her back in the cabin, the de-thawed stranger immediately sets alarm bells ringing with her off-hand ungratefulness and inappropriately barbed humour. Then things really go pear-shaped and gory mayhem ensues.
If that all sounds relatively linear, well it’s not reflective of the way director Baruh has re-assembled all the apples in the cart (pun intended). Before things get nasty up at the snowbound cabin, the film cuts to interspersed segments from a true crime style TV show entitled ‘Inside Crime’ which features a re-enactment of the supposed events which will occur, including eye-witness accounts which seemingly offer spoilerific testimony to the fate of most of the Pollock family, and explain why Brea Grant’s character Casey will end up being labelled ‘Axe Mom’ by the media. The fact that the faux documentary contradicts everything we’ve been presented with thus far, and eventually gets the ‘facts’ spectacularly wrong is an amusing rug-pull, one of several (even if at the same time providing bona fide spoilers).
There’s much to enjoy in this unevenly barmy ragbag of folk-horror mixed with EVIL DEAD possession and spirited dismemberment. Brea Grant’s brutally protective defence of her family and ultimately their souls delivers some crowd-pleasing axe mayhem, whilst Barbara Crampton is deliciously sinister with her icy contempt and ruthlessness towards the sacrificial victims lured into the woods.
Practical gore is served up in a mouth-watering final third with a welcome revisit of the classic bladder-effect being a particularly retro-treat.
So the various competing plotlines don’t quite gel, and the ending leaves many questions still dangling, including an open-ended post-credit sequence. But despite the tonal and narrative jolts which undermine any built up tension, this is still overall a pleasingly weird danse macabre which audaciously dances to its own rhythms.
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