When Judge David Johnson thinks about "the dark hours," he's reminded of that time that time he showed up to school in his Incredible Hulk underpants. And, no, it wasn't a bad dream.
The truth can be deadly.
It's not often that a fine bit of horror filmmaking sneaks under the radar and emerges to knock you for a loop. The Dark Hours represents one of those occasions; a slick, small-scale affair that just reeks of "someone-knows-their-crap" from top to bottom.
Facts of the Case
Dr. Samantha Goodman (Kate Greenhouse) is a renowned psychiatrist, working in an institution for the criminally insane, and grappling with some traumatic news: she has an inoperable tumor lodged in her brain, and her time is ticking away. She has yet to tell her husband, David (Gordon Currie), and tries to arrange a weekend getaway at their secluded cabin where they can talk, but he's reluctant because of a looming book deadline.
She goes up anyway, and finds him and her sister Melody (Iris Graham) hanging out. Both are stunned to hear the news, but no one has time to process it: they're interrupted by a young man trapped in the cold. Grudgingly, they let him in, and that's how the nightmare starts. Soon, Samantha and her family come face to face with pure malevolence, in the form of a former patient of hers, Harlan Pyne (Aidan Devine). And what this guy has planned for the night, is not fun.
The Dark Hours is an exceedingly well done, tight little dose of suspense-horror, brimming with strong performances, cringe-worthy gore, a memorable villain, and a neck-snapping twist ending that may be a little too cute for its own good. In short, it's definitely worth a peek.
The film opens with the sterile, cold environment of Dr. Goodman's office, and director Paul Fox, who nimbly uses colors to drive the moods of the film, paints these scenes in shallow whites and blues. It's professional and detached. But when events shift to the cabin, where the majority of the action transpires, we're suddenly awash in warmer tones, browns, oranges and auburns, signaling the intensely personal nature of what is to come.
So begins the unraveling. At its heart, The Dark Hours is the story of a descent into lunacy, drawn with an increasingly disturbing game of one-upping from the filmmakers. The catalyst of the film is the great performance by Devine as the sociopath Harlan Payne, who fashions humiliating and destructive "games" for his hostages—and each one is worse than the last. As he raises the stakes, the wills and the minds of his victims incrementally evaporate, until one last person is forced to do something truly memorable—and skin-crawlingly gross.
Ah, the ending. It's a mind-bending culmination, and somewhat complex to track, but it makes sense for the film. I do think that those of you that have had your fill of big plot twists and reality-stabbing denouements could be left slightly in the cold with Fox's serpentine finale, but, as I said before, the ending fits. Nonetheless, I didn't flip for it myself.
Acting is top-shelf. Greenhouse and Devine carry the film, with Devine devouring scenes with the eerily calm portrayal of a dude who's totally out of his gourd and Greenhouse deftly moving through her character's downward spiral, to that money scene that will likely define the film (hint: it's listed in the MPAA box as "a scene of self-mutilation"). And a special nod goes to Dov Teifenbach as Harlan Pyne's sidekick, a mentally unbalanced kid who's already more than unraveled mentally.
The DVD looks terrific. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is clean and the color tones—so important to the storytelling—are robust. Sound also plays an important role in the film and the 5.1 mix is up to the task. For extras: a low-key, didactic filmmakers' commentary, an hour of on-set footage and an alternate ending that would have completely screwed up the pacing of the film had it been left intact.
The Dark Hours is a good movie. Great pacing and strong acting gives way to solid suspense and tactile dread. Plus, a few tasty bones are thrown to the gore-hounds. Recommended.
The accused is released. But for God's sake, someone keep her away from the pliers!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Freestyle Home Entertainment
• Filmmakers' Commentary
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