Home

CampBlood Reviews: Senseless Rants from a Picky Sissy

 

The Dark Hours Paul Fox 2005

Cabin Fever, Canada Style

Although it’s not in one of my favorite subgenres (for lack of a better word, I’ll call it the “crazyass kidnaps a bunch of people and fucks with them for a few hours” subgenre), the Canadian horror/thriller The Dark Hours has enough going for it to overcome the limited trappings of its conventions and merit a watch. Unfortunately, I can’t discuss the film in any detail without giving away a major plot twist, so I’m going to wrap things up quickly for those of you who don’t want the secret ruined, and then move on to a spoiler-filled analysis. Bottom line, this flick’s got intensity, fantastic performances, and stylistic flourishes that actually contribute to the story rather than distract from it (I bet you forgot that was possible in this age of Gatorade-commercial horror filmmaking, didn’t you?). The lean storyline is packed with drama, paranoia, and potential (and actual) violence, and a few scattered highbrow touches counteract the brutality and gore very nicely (having a character who’s just gotten a nail rammed in their ear mutter, “I don’t like this new gum” is a fun example). Maybe I’m a sucker for any Canadian movie with a bitch for a lead character, but the central performance of Kate Greenhouse as ailing, supremely volatile psychiatrist Samantha Goodman is like a gift from the horror performance gods; supporting turns by Gordon Currie (from Jason Takes Manhattan, the poor thing) as her writer husband and Aidan Devine (from A History of Violence) as crazed mental patient Harlan Pyne are equally way-better-than-we-have-any-right-to-expect from a tiny horror picture.

Okay, that’s all I can get into without blowing the secret. I’d seriously recommend seeing it before reading further – it’s a very interesting little flick. Commence spoiling.

Doctor Samantha Goodman is a doctor working with severely disturbed mental patients somewhere in Canada (the Canada part is really irrelevant, but I just love saying it). Aside from dealing with volatile individuals on a daily basis, she also has a problem of her own to deal with: an inoperable brain tumor that has recently grown significantly in size. After reading her CAT-scan, Sam moderates a patient’s review and is horribly unfair – although, given that he is a convicted murder and psychopath, is she wrong to be tough on him? Either way, she stirs the man into a frenzy and he lunges across the room at her, which really isn’t the best way to conduct yourself during a sanity review, trust me. From experience.

Sam really needs to talk with her husband David (the rather yummy Currie) about the tumor, but he’s off to their cabin for the weekend trying to finish his novel, and has taken Sam’s younger sister Melody (Iris Graham) with him as his assistant (um, what?). Sam decides to show up at the cabin unannounced (how do you say “cruisin’ for a bruising” in Canadian?) to tell both her husband and sister, but not before stopping her car in the middle of the road and crying while a truck blares its horn behind her and popping into one of the weirdest roadside diners ever for some veal. See, Sam’s our friend here, and kinda our narrator. And our friend has a tumor the size of a hen’s egg in her brain, and her mind has started playing tricks on her. I had a friend (who sadly died) who had a tumor the size of a tennis ball in his head by the time he passed, and the things that he would experience were truly bizarre – lots of strange smells (leather, oranges), disorientation, vertigo while sitting still, all sorts of things. So when Sam suddenly loses her hearing in the middle of a conversation with the diner waitress about headless calves, it really shook me. And it’s also an important clue: this poor woman is not in full control of her mental faculties, and the experiences that she’s relaying to us therefore can’t necessarily be trusted.

Sam arrives at the house and hears her husband in the living room, and their dog greets her. David has just jammed his thumb on an axe handle but otherwise looks happy enough to see her. The three of them make dinner and Sam finds a bottle of champagne in the fridge – could David and Mel have been planning a romantic getaway? Sam blurts out that her tumor has grown and when Mel gets emotional about it, hard-assed Sam tells her to shut up and locks herself in the bathroom, where she breaks out her fancy lipstick – the same ornate case that she took out when she spoke with David on the phone from her office – and scratches the strange rash on her upper thigh. When she comes out of the bathroom, David and Mel are worried – she’s been in there forever! Or has she? The three decide to discuss Sam’s medical condition calmly, when there is a knock at the door.

Shit.

There’s a kid at the door, Adrian (Dov Tiefenbach, also in the excellent Blood Moon), who says he’s staying down the road and that his friends haven’t shown up yet and there’s no heat. David is suspicious but Sam tells him to let him in to sit by the fire. Adrian seems well and good enough, until he pets the dog and out of nowhere pulls a gun out of his waistband and shoots the poor pooch in the head. It appears David was right to be suspicious of Adrian after all. And here I thought Canada was a nice place to live! Adrian makes them all sit at the table, and soon a man arrives on a snowmobile: Harlan (Devine), a former patient of Sam’s who went into a coma under hazy circumstances after being institutionalized for raping and killing teenage boys.

So we’ve got a killer homo (more on that later), his twitchy little pogue, and a dysfunctional threesome with very bad news to process. And a dead dog – can’t forget him. Harlan and Adrian start to play “games” with the family, in an apparent attempt to turn them against one another and teach Sam what it’s like to be sitting on the other side of the review table, having your head picked apart by strangers. And despite being an obvious psychopath, Harlan does seem to be pretty insightful (the killer homos always are, aren’t they? Well, except Jason Voorhees – but he was marinating in lakewater for a dozen years, which isn’t exactly good for the synapses.), and he eventually is able to get Sam on his side by revealing that her husband had romantic intentions toward her daughter. And seeing as how this is even after Sam has killed Adrian in the cellar by driving a nail into his ear, you gotta give Harlan some credit for seeing his project through in the face of all obstacles. Having beaten the shit out of David (doesn’t losing one’s bottom bring out the beast?), Harlan reveals why he’s really there: he also had an inoperable brain tumor, and Sam – being fully aware of this – injected him with experimental medicine, sending him into a coma. She used him as a guinea pig for her own treatment, and killed him as a result, and since then her self-treatment (remember that lipstick case? Wasn't lipstick, just like the rash on her leg wasn't a rash) hasn't just not treated the tumor, it's driven her mad.

And yes, I said “killed him”. Harlan is dead. And so is Adrian (Harlan eloquently notes, “we carry our ghosts with us”, and Adrian was one of his victims, as he was one of Sam’s), and David, and Mel – who Sam murdered with an axe upon arriving and discovering them porking on the couch. By this point Sam is completely unhinged and is rewriting facts as they happen, resulting in a mercurial, non-linear story that wraps around itself a few times and is really impossible to nail down in reality, but don't worry -- you won't really want to. What we've seen is so clearly the sad unraveling of one sick, troubled woman that you probably won't bother trying to figure much else out -- and Greenhouse's performance is so captivating and pitch-perfect that you'll be too satisfied watching her nuance her way through the challenging material to get out your red pens. In fact, she reminds me in many ways of the also-fabulous, also-Canadian, and also-plays-a-lady-doctor-going-batshit Kari Matchett from Invasion (WATCH IT, BITCHES). The final, harrowing scene where Harlan coaches Sam on how cutting off her own figure with a wirecutter will erase the guilt and pain is so fantastically acted that it will actually make some kind of sick sense (even though it doesn't, at all) -- it's a testament to Greenhouse's rock-solid work that she can make the thoughts of a madwoman seem reasonable.

In all, this is a fascinating, unique, and surprisingly tastefully-done capture-torture thriller that's got gobs more thought and intention behind it than other modern sadistic parlor pieces (the abysmal Chaos comes to mind, and then leaves again with a muffled farting sound). Definitely worth checking out.

Rating (out of 5):