Dead Night

Dead Night (2017)
★ / ★★★★

Screenwriter Irving Walker and director Brad Baruh ought to take a Horror 101 class in order to really take a look at classic horror films—especially those with wild ideas—and study why they work. It is astounding that their project manages to get nearly every single element wrong, from mashing together a hodgepodge of ideas that do not complement one another to the truly awful execution in which suspense is nearly absent. Halfway through, it becomes clear that it is all about the splatter—like how an axe cracks the skull, how limbs are torn so easily. Is it supposed to be darkly comic? A throwback to B-movies of the past? It doesn’t matter—it is intolerably boring.

This would-be horror film is titled “Dead Night,” but it might as well be called “Dead on Arrival,” both because it offers nothing better than bottom-of-the-barrel junk as the family on vacation is terrorized and killed by supernatural forces mere hours after their arrival at the cabin in the woods. Observe how the dialogue is so scripted, no one sounds like an actual person but movie characters designed to be killed should the plot demand it. The awkward beats between lines only amplifies the hollowness of it all; the performers themselves do not look sold on what they’re saying, let alone be bothered to actually feel what their characters are feeling. At least they got paid to be in a bad movie rather than having to watch themselves appear in one.

We are shown fragments being inserted in unsuspecting people’s bodies. Somehow these curious, ancient-looking objects allow the victims to get possessed or to come back to life (it isn’t clear) equipped with rather robotic-sounding demonic voices. But the thing is, they’re not strong or smart or even remotely threatening. They release guttural growls, their bodies undergo involuntary shaking, and their eyes whiten. (Of course, bad CGI must be employed since this is almost a pre-requisite in terrible horror flicks.) These zombie-demons appear to understand orders but they don’t accomplish anything. They are useless, worse than zombies that are barely able to walk, and one must wonder at their function. Are they meant to serve merely as ugly decorations against the pine trees and snow? Are we even supposed to feel creeped out by them?

At least Barbara Crampton, the unconscious woman whom the patriarch (AJ Bowen) finds in the snowy woods, seems to be having a great time. Her approach once her character is resuscitated: overact, turn the enthusiasm knob to eleven, raise her voice at every character who challenges her even just a little. The surge of energy she provides is like a defibrillator to a body that had been dead for a week. While her attempt to revive the material is ultimately useless, at least she tried. That is more than can be said about the filmmakers’ efforts. I got the impression that they wanted to make a movie just to have something on their resume. What results is a work that is lazy and not at all entertaining.

If I were a film professor, I would hold an optional lecture for “Dead Night.” It would be a good lecture to attend because it shows how not to make a film—no matter the genre. And it would be optional because sitting through the picture itself is harsh punishment. I would rather stare at a wall for an hour and fifteen minutes than having to watch this drivel again.

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