The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Dead Night

Dead Night is one of the most unusual and peculiar horror films I've seen recently. I like unusual and peculiar in my horror. It means I'm seeing something I haven't quite seen before. This isn't a paranormal chiller, a slasher flick, or a home invasion thriller, although it has elements of all three. Those elements are assembled in a unique way that keeps you hooked as you wait to see how everything will tie together.

The movie opens with a fairly basic setup. James and Casey Pollack (AJ Bowen and Brea Grant) head out to a remote cabin with their kids, Jessica (Sophie Dalah) and Jason (Joshua Hoffman), as well as Jessica's friend Becky (Elise Luthman). James has cancer, and the family has chosen this location because it sits on a piece of land alleged to have healing powers.

As soon as this is established, the story switches gears, flipping to a true crime television show, hosted by Jack Sterling (Daniel Roebuck). The program begins to detail the sordid story of a seemingly normal family who endured a deadly ordeal at a cabin in the woods. It is, of course, the Pollacks. Dead Night proceeds to bounce back and forth between the real story and how it was portrayed on TV until we discover the truth of what actually happened. Barbara Crampton plays Leslie Bison, a local politician whom the Pollacks find unconscious in the woods. Her arrival is the thing that jump-starts the terror.

Both halves of Dead Night are done very well. The TV crime show recreation is pleasingly authentic. Oftentimes, such things look nothing like their real-life counterparts. Director Brad Baruh takes care to get it right, which adds exponentially to the movie's overall effect. He also builds an engrossing mystery in the half dealing with Casey and Leslie. The movie carefully doles out bits of information, making sure to keep you uncertain of what it all means until the dramatic reveal in the final minutes. Best of all, this isn't one of those empty shock-based horror movies. Dead Night does indeed shock, while also leaving you with plenty to think about when it's over. (To reveal what you think about would constitute a spoiler.)

Fine performances can be found throughout, but it's really the two lead actresses who stand out. Brea Grant is excellent as Casey, playing the character as such a nice person that we have trouble believing what Sterling's show says about her. As the plot develops, so does her character. Intriguing new layers begin to emerge, all of which feed into the truth of what happened in the woods. Barbara Crampton, meanwhile, imbues Leslie with a palpable sense of menace. We can feel this character isn't quite right from the get-go, but it seems like that weird self-righteousness that certain politicians exude. As we get to know Leslie better, her true nature is revealed, and it's far different than we expect. Crampton's effective turn gives Dead Night its wicked center.

If anything, the film could have provided some extra time with the characters before the action sets in. Casey and family are at the cabin within minutes, and the mysterious events kick off right after that. A little extra room to just hang with them would have maximized the impact of everything coming later.

Nevertheless, the movie oozes eerie atmosphere and sinks its teeth into you. The topics of family dynamics, politics, illness, crime, the veracity of reality television, and one or two traditional horror elements that shouldn't be revealed here are mixed together into a unique blend. Ambitious and nicely creepy, Dead Night is one to seek out.

( out of four)

Dead Night is unrated, but contains adult language and some graphic violence. The running time is 1 hour and 20 minutes.

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