Written by Jay Kay
Based on true events surrounding the unexplained vanishing of hikers within The Ocala National Forest comes the cat and mouse thriller ONE NIGHT OF FEAR. Creating a snapshot of survival, brutality and raw emotion, this formulaic indie effort does not stray from the prototypical slasher/survival sub-genre of horror as it plays it straight, letting you know what could have happened to many of those unlucky souls out for experience in the deep and dark woods. This cautionary slaughter piece features horror performance by talent such as Jimmy Dempster (Regret), Jessica Sonneborn (The Haunting of Alice D) and Suzi Lorraine (Torment). ONE NIGHT OF FEAR does cater to a different side of the horror film fan; giving them tension, intent and brutality spread over a long road of survival.
Opening with an abduction of a camper ala ‘Friday the 13th’ style, we see the monstrous and silent Robert Mukes lookalike beast played by actor Jason Sutton. Butchering the young and naked camper, we know bad things are going to happen to many people. Moving through the woods as if he were a part of the scenery; Sutton’s character stalks and slaughters all who come his way taking his fury out from the death of his mother (Mel Heflin) at the hands of his insane grandfather (Joel D. Wynkoop). Finding more than one-dimensional ways to torture his victims, both Troxell’s found some creative ways to not only add intensity to Sutton’s kills but also add abit of an underground edge blended with the 1980’s. Definitely influenced by the 1980’s style, feel and storytelling of what many consider to be the best decade of modern horror; Sutton’s Killer is a ghost that through smart editing, camera work and reaction is a silent predator. You see this throughout the film but no better or more vicious then in the opening sequence of the film.Sutton’s killer is hunting a group of friends who are on a trip together. As the herd is thinned out, three of the survivors find sanctuary inside a summer rental home deep in the forest. The group consist of Rob (Dempster), Katie (Sonneborn), Jessica (Lorraine) along with the authority of the forest Elmer (Russ Forga). Attempting to escape; not only to save their friends but themselves as the Killer hunts them down one by one. Through bravery, brains and a team effort, this group unlike many others before may survive thenight. That is if they can survive each other.
ONE NIGHT OF FEAR upon first screening did nothing for me. True, there are some very well executed kills by Sutton’s killer as well as the very smart use of the locations around the summer rental house giving length and space to the grounds for the predator and prey. Most of the acting did not hook me or make me believe in the struggle, danger and attitude conveyed in each character as well as towards each other in the high stress and tension filled scenes. Knowing that any indie film project is challenge for a variety of reasons including budget, scheduling, technology, unforeseen challenges and such, you watch ONE NIGHT OF FEAR and take this film for what it is warts and all. That however, is indie horror filmmaking at its finest and with the most love, dedication and talent from cast and crew. Out of the main cast in the film, Dempster’s performance as Rob is the best of the lot showing some personality and depth. He has a more convincing feel too his struggle and control during this terrible situation. Both Sonneborn and Lorraine are what their roles dictate. They give some range overall but never fully making me believe that this was as tragic and intense as those true events could be. One thing I will say for both female leads, is the snap of their dialogue towards each other adds a bit of fire needed in these moments of life and death. Sonneborn plays such a down to earth character who is smart especially when she goes all Steven Segal with that bag of pool balls! Lorraine especially plays a wonderful and testy bitch dragged into mess. This goes also for Sutton whose killer again is one dimensional. He is a large brooding monster which is fine but is cookie cutter at best.
The cinematography for ONE NIGHT OF FEAR during both viewings impressed me. The DP and editor Paul Steward gave this mundane film some shape and definitely perspective with not only very flushed out camera work but being smart enough to allow the action and movement to develop within the frame through most of the film. Why at times the lighting was a bit much, the overall feel of the locations and the darkness that held the killer was effective for me. Whether it was the methodical pace and stalking movement of Sutton’s killer moving into frame or the long shot of the trio running down road from Sutton or even the combo of editing and cut away shots that showed the fate of Rob, the work by Steward was the biggest highlight for me on this film. However, it did lag a bit especially when the trio enters and searches through the house. Also, it was a bit excessive to continue to show the grandfather (Wynkoop) going through his madness and tantrum over and over again! While it told some back story; it turned me off with the screaming and ranting of the grandfather. I would have trimmed back both scenes a bit giving more focus on the growing of the killer and the bond with mother (Heflin). To make a run time, the filler was a bit much. You needed development in other places.
Overall, ONE NIGHT OF FEAR is a fun indie effort for fans who want to relive the 80’s style of slasher horror with a hint of the underground. It has a dark heart and deals with the restrictions of being an indie production to say the least. For underground fans especially, you will love a couple of the quick and impact kills that hold nothing back but it does lack in fulfilling a higher amount of blood and gore. Hats off again to Steward and Dempster especially for adding something more to the film. However; just like the victims in ONE NIGHT OF FEAR, it can’t escape that vast ocean of horror content. Perhaps a cult audience will embrace it; we will see if it survives.
Check out the trailer for ONE NIGHT OF FEAR below and rent it now on Amazon Video.