The Pollack family are heading to a cabin in the woods for the healing power of the rocks it’s built on, but genre fans shouldn’t be too surprised to discover they’re heading towards creative dismemberment instead. However, there may or may not be something special about the ground on which so much blood is spilled in Bradford Baruh’s directorial debut Dead Night (previously titled Applecart), depending on which version of events you believe.
The tragedy that befell the Pollacks was either due to mother Casey (Brea Grant) losing her mind and going on a bloody murder spree, or came about because her family was targeted by a sinister coven of witches set on enacting a ghoulish ritual. Irving Walker’s script flits between a faux-documentary investigating the former explanation, and a gore-soaked horror movie in which Casey faces off against a supernatural conspiracy.
Baruh shows a knack for genre thrills early on with a nicely nasty 60’s-set prologue, and the beautifully shot snowbound forests give the film a visual identity that’s distinct from many other “cabin in the woods” horrors, though it does recall the videogame Until Dawn (co-written by genre veteran Larry Fessenden), as does the increasingly bizarre plot. By the time Casey is having everything explained to her, you may be asking yourself if it’s really all making sense.
However, there’s more than enough working in the film’s favour to look past anything less than convincing. First of all, there’s a very well-written and well-played family unit, with Grant (Halloween II) giving an excellent leading performance and horror favourite AJ Bowen (You’re Next, A Horrible Way To Die) providing a lot of humour and heart as her husband. We’re rooting for the Pollacks, but it’s impossible not to enjoy how much fun Barbara Crampton is having as the interloper who drastically changes their night after being found in the woods. It’s a gleefully sinister performance, and our sympathy for these characters and the excellent gore effects means that the carnage and chaos that follows packs a real punch.
Dead Night has proven to be divisive so far, and it’s impossible to go too deeply into the possible reasons why without giving away much of the second half, but with good performances, great atmosphere and plenty of gory surprises, horror fans should definitely give it a chance.
Dead Night was seen and reviewed at Arrow Video FrightFest 2018.