BluRay/DVD Reviews


By • Feb 7th, 2006 •

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(Freestyle Entertainment) 2005
80 mins / WideScreen / ‘R’

Intelligent horror flicks are a rarity on the current market. Nothing against the Asian influx, which are more canny than intelligent, or the extreme-cruelty sub-genre, which is plentifully home grown (SAW, HOSTEL etc), and strategically appealing to mass yearnings for revenge (Al Qaeda not having been properly trounced to citizen satisfaction). But something else is available on occasion, something that may have dashes of modern gore and sex and violence, but which is based on a love of the horror canon of past generations — kind of like a rap star trying his hand at Doo Wop. (Well, maybe not that outrageous, for with that analogy, I doubt anyone would listen.) With a film such as THE DARK HOURS, DVD viewers will watch, enjoy the manipulations of the plot, the tight unwinding of visual clues, the taut direction and uniformly superior performances, and understand that they are being given a little something extra with their dose of horror thrills.

Paul Fox, a Canadian filmmaker at home in many genres, was formerly a School of Visual Arts student, though I never had the pleasure of his presence in one of my classes. Returning to his native soil, which has grown such fine crops as David Cronenberg, Norman Jewison, Denys Arcand, and Ivan Reitman, Fox created this little film in 2004, which has had a below-the-radar release in the US, something which should be corrected pronto.

Dr. Samantha Goodman (Kate Greehouse) a seemingly unfeeling psychiatrist, is introduced to us while passing judgment on a criminally insane prisoner who is putting his best foot forward, only to have her step on it and grind her heel into his ego. After receiving some disconcerting news about her own physical state, she heads out of town to join her husband at their cabin in the woods, where a terrifying psychodrama unfurls as two psychopaths invade their territory.

The stomping grounds are not unfamiliar. In fact, on the commentary track, the director, who speaks in a low-key, Wes Craven type voice, relays no fewer than eleven influences, including Bertolucci, Kubrick, Cronenberg, Jerry Lewis, Jack Clayton, William Friedkin, Hitchcock, Michael Powell, Dario Argento, and Charles Laughton. None of these, however, is blatantly obvious in the film – it’s less an overt homage than the handiwork of a film-school-trained director who has retained his favorite images and sounds from among the oeuvres of those directors of yesteryear whose work moved him.

The only in-your-face influence I noticed was (interestingly) Wes Craven’s THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, a particularly nasty revenge flick from 1972, itself adapted from Ingmar Bergman’s THE VIRGIN SPRING. One of the LAST HOUSE characters, the rather vulnerable son of the lead psychotic, is replicated almost verbatim – looks and scripted business – in this film. And yet Fox has never seen the Craven film. So what does that mean? That I’m a pretentious critic reading things into the movie? Not really, because the screenwriter has seen LAST HOUSE! Ah hah!

The first act is rather cold, and meant to be – even the color schemes and locations reinforce the feeling. Then, when things get upsetting around the 27-minute-mark, it all becomes emotional and intense. There are unforgettable variations on the claustrophobic horror scenario: the doctor hiding under the house, watching through the latticework as a young woman who was possibly dallying with her husband is dragged away, the young woman locking eyes with her, staring back desperately. At choice moments like that, you know you’re in the grip of a good filmmaker and you’d best sit back and see where he’s going to drag you before he’s done.

Shot on Super 16mm inekghteen days, there’s a palpable sense of control about the production; it’s as tight as the cabin is claustrophobic. In the commentary, Fox expresses some trepidation the production team had about the sex scene and some of the nihilistic violence. They should see THE DEVIL’S REJECTS, which also indulges lovingly (?) in LAST HOUSE-inspired cruelty, a script I cannot imagine having been passed by any head office on this continent.

THE DARK HOURS is a rewarding genre film (as well as award-winning – 17 from major fests, including Sitges) that never plays down to its audience, and delivers a surprising, uncharacteristic third act that will stay with you for quite a while.

Directed by Paul Fox.
Written by Wil Zmak.
Produced by Brent Barclay.
Director of Photography – Steve Cosens.
Editor – Marlo Miazga.
Production Design – Aidan Leroux.

With: Kate Greenhouse, Aidan Devine, Iris Graham, Gordon Currie, Dov Tiefenbach, Donald Wegman.

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