What I'm Watching: 7 Nights of Darkness
When someone says 'this movie is terrible, avoid it at all costs!' this is like siren song to my ears, and I come running.
That's what happened with 7 Nights of Darkness. Someone posted something along those lines on Facebook, my ears perked up, and I found it immediately on Amazon. I thought it would languish with the rest of everything I'm not streaming, but I had a hole in my schedule open up that very night, so I got to watch this almost immediately upon finding it.
The plot is pretty simple, and pretty common, but with a few twists. A group of people stumble into a found footage movie in an old sanitarium. So, Grave Encounters, right? But the setup here is, that it's a reality show, where they have to stay in the building for seven days, perform tasks, and can leave at any time, but they forfeit the prize of a million dollars, divided up amongst any one who manages to stay the whole seven days.
So yeah, it's a bit Grave Encounters with a bit House on Haunted Hill. I'm down for that.
First of all, the movie looks cheap. This looks like what you would expect taking your own cameras out to a place and filming. Possibly even worse. But, I'll give it a pass on that, since this is a fairly no budget thriller. Of course it ain't gonna look shiny and polished, and for the most part, the look works with the verisimilitude they're striving for.
The opening act is a bit of a rough go, as they establish everyone, the setting, the game. I've certainly seen worse, but the camerawork needs a lot of polish. There is a lot of filming the floor, or staying too long on a single object. I'll circle back around to this in a bit.
Even with a handful of intros and confessional scenes, I never really got a handle on who the characters are, except for maybe one or two. Ironically enough, the clearest character is the one who gets taken out first, but then proceeds to pop up from time to time to torment the remaining people. And the reason she stands out is she has a clearly defined character trait and goal of wanting to find the ghosts in the abandoned building.
Which leads her to do such reckless things as, during a seance, ask the spirits to push her, scratch her, etc. Well, if you are going to QUITE LITERALLY ask for it, lady...
And the movie does a lot of nothing; filming the floor, filming a door, watching people sleep...if not for the few moments interspersed where something DOES happen, it would be interminable. It's trying to build tension, but instead it's...a shot of the floor.
But after a half hour or so of making fun of the movie, damn if it didn't get me good with a scare. Sure, it was a cheap jump scare, and a pretty low budget effect, and I knew SOMEthing was coming, but it was still fairly effective. I didn't know quite what route the movie was going to take at this point. Was it going to just be reality tv people messing with them? Was it going to be a simple psychotic episode? Was it going to be genuinely supernatural? And I got the answer in a fairly startling way, after a fairly long scene.
Which brings me back to the cinematography. The movie does several long scenes, where you're just looking at one thing, as whomever holds the camera talks and/or panics. You know SOMEthing is coming, or at least you hope something is. And, to be fair, they genuinely build up some solid tension and suck you in, making you get on the edge of your seat, wondering what it will be. And that is some effective tension building there, but at he same time, a stationary camera pointed at a door while you wait for two, three minutes also gets boring and tedious. The payoff is solid enough, but getting there is almost not worth it.
The movie is broken up into nightly segments, each one getting progressively worse and worse, but they work well with it, and having that brief pause to tell you what day it is, allows the movie to reset and dial back the tension.
I wish a little more thought had been put into the reality show premise. It seems pretty slapdash and not fully conceived or thought through, and since a lot of the dialogue feels improvised, having more of a plan would have helped the story. The tasks being laid out in manila envelopes to be opened one a day just felt a bit cheap. Not having a host, or MC feels like an oversight, and would've made things better. If nothing else, it would've provided some much needed context and backstory for the location. There really is no information given whatsoever as to what's going on, or why. Also, it might have given the proceedings more direction, and less of an on the fly, off the cuff feel to it all.
Also, some lighting would've been appreciated. Unless they're in the mess hall, or the kitchen, everything is filmed through the cameras with either their night vision or a flashlight or three as the sole source of lighting. A lot of the movie is dreary and drab because of this, and often just hard to look at. Or just plain black. The one upside of this is that it gives the effects a better look to them.
I will say this though, it gave me one of my favourite lines in a horror movie in a long time, and a sensible reaction, "Our task for the night is to go explore the fourth floor!" "OH FUCK NO!"
Ultimately, this is a far cry from the worst found footage I've seen. It's got some good scares, it actually raises some good tension, and the last half hour is almost worth it as the shit really hits the fan. Once the movie feels like it has a plan, and isn't just being made up and improvised by the actors, is when it really starts to work, but it's a long road to get there. It started playing with a malleable reality, time, and twists and turns in the architecture they could have made so much more with.
I definitely give it a slightly above average rating for a solid effort, and if you go into this aware of just how low budget it is, and are willing to give it a pass for a few things because of that, it's not the worst ride to go along with. This is a solid idea that just needed a bit more work, and to be thought through a little more, and presented better.
*cough* Or just go watch Grave Encounters...