You want batshit? Bradford Baruh’ll give you batshit, pulled together from a hefty helping of blood and guts, a cast of cult genre pros and more twists, turns and “WTF?” exclamations than you can possibly shake a stick at. His cabin-in-the-woods heavy debut is the very epitome of ‘out-there’ horror storytelling, meshing a classic slasher template with everything from Wicker Man-esque tribal frights, to TV-movie true crime docs. It’s mad, and uncomfortable, and it really doesn’t work all that well, but you have to salute the man for trying – there’s more creativity and hardcore genre know-how here than most of the year’s big studio horror movies put together.
Dead Night used to be called Applecart, but neither title really lives up to just how unhinged this whole set-up is. Brea Grant and AJ Bowen star as squabbling parents dragging their children out into the woods for a much-needed winter vacation. But when Barbara Crampton’s wild-eyed head case shows up, passed-out on their property, things take an uneven turn and it’s not long before Grant’s troubled mother is taking an axe to the whole affair.
Screenwriter Irving Walker offers up enough fast-paced content here for multiple movies, let alone just this lean 90-minute slasher. From the troubling prologue onwards, Dead Night runs full steam ahead and never lets up, even when it shifts gears into a few unusual flash-forwards. At times it might feel a little like Walker and Baruh are making it up as they go along, and it’s difficult to let such a thought go since so much of the action comes thick, fast and thrown totally out of nowhere, but when you stop trying to take account of the plot’s constant shuddering turns, things become a whole lot more enjoyable.
Crampton is at the very height of her powers as a seriously unhinged stranger with a dark-side, Grant takes on the heroine well, and the practical gore effects really help to bring the nastiness of the film’s second and third acts full circle. A lot of the exposition needed to connect the dots is either very blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, or just simply not there, but the cast and crew are all so dedicated to making a spectacle of it, you’ll likely reach a point where you just give up caring.
Dead Night is a full-on adrenaline shot of pure madness that makes little-to-no sense at all, and if that’s right up your alley, you’ll have a blast. If not, maybe try something a bit less mile-a-minute.
Dead Night was screened as part of Arrow Video FrightFest 2018 and will be released in the UK in October courtesy of Studiocanal.