Writer: Irving Walker, Brad Baruh
Cast: Brea Grant, AJ Bowen, Barbara Crampton, Sophie Dalah, Elise Luthman, Joshua Hoffman
Cert: 15 (TBC)
Running time: 86mins
What’s the story: When a family go to a cabin in the wintry woods of Oregon, they discover an unconscious woman in the snow. Upon reviving her, they realise they are in great danger.
What’s the verdict: Reworked from an earlier version entitled Applecart after an unsuccessful premiere on the festival circuit, Dead Night carries the stitch marks and bandaging of editing room surgery.
Interestingly, this retooling may have led to a dual narrative structure that takes a crack at doing something different with the “cabin in the woods” subgenre.
Plot A follows a family up to the cabin. James (Bowen) is terminally ill and mineral deposits in the area may have a palliative effect. He is joined by devoted wife Casey (Grant), bickering teen kids Jessica (Dalah) and Jason (Hoffman), and Jessica’s friend Becky (Luthman).
Things take an unsettling turn for the weird when they discover the mysterious Leslie (Crampton) unconscious in the snow. Taking her back to the house, she soon awakens but her behaviour is distinctly south of normal.
Plot B ambitiously flashes forward, taking the form of a true-life crime show recounting the massacre that unfolded at the snowy cabin. As the two plots run parallel, we witness the official account of that night and the actual events.
First time director Baruh understands the mechanics of escalating tension. Early scenes in the cabin carry an atmosphere of agitation similar to You’re Next or The Sacrament, two films that also featured leading man Bowen.
Baruh can also deliver the gory goods, benefitting from Kenton Drew Johnson’s chilly cinematography that sets the copious bloodletting in stark contrast to blue-white snow.
Where Dead Night stumbles is in Baruh and co-writer Walker not managing to marry those two plot styles. While the TV show revelations pack surprises, Plot B often stalls the story momentum.
We’re guessing that this second plot was the main part of re-editing Applecart into Dead Night (although let us know if we’re wrong). It is also lumbered with having to explain why the snow in certain sequences has gone, and even with its insertion, heads are likely to remain scratched when audiences attempt to piece the story together.
Not to say that Dead Night is a failure. Horror fans get a healthy ration of splatter, Grant delivers a fierce central performance as a protective den mother, and it is good seeing Crampton cast against type in a villainous role.
Most interesting would be a home release that features both Applecart and Dead Night as a compare and contrast. As it stands, Baruh’s debut may not be the sum of its (body) parts but receives points for trying.