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When we started our TFS Essential Canadian Cinema column a few months ago, it was with the intention of shining a spotlight on Canadian films that didn’t make the splash they should have when they were released. The Dark Hours is a prime example of a film that, whether or not you agree with TFS writers William Brownridge and Liam Volke about its “essential” status, deserved to be made available to discerning horror fans all across Canada.

Written by  Wil Zmak  and directed by Paul Fox, The Dark Hours was produced through the Canadian Film Centre’s Features programme (then called the Feature Film Project) and was released in 2005 after making the film festival rounds.  It suffered a fate similar to countless Canadian films before it: a ridiculously short and limited  theatrical run before heading straight-to-video.

Was The Dark Hours treated unfairly?  Should it be deemed an essential film that  horror fans should seek out? William Brownridge and Liam Volke discuss the matter further.

Will:  The basic rundown. The closer it got to the end, the less I started enjoying the film and I thought the final reveal wasn’t as good as I had hoped for. By the next day, I was starting to think about everything that had happened in the movie, and my opinion began changing. The final twist seemed a bit lazy at first, but it starts making you think about every single scene in the movie. It’s almost as if everything you watched never really happened, or did but in some strange alternate way. At what point did the movie break from reality, or was it ever in reality at all?

Liam: I actually think I enjoyed the movie more as it got closer to the end, just because it took the whole home invasion plot in a different direction. And while those kinds of stories can certainly be fun and disturbing, this one obviously has more up its sleeve than horrifying sadistic behaviour, and revolting dilemmas you’d never wish upon your worst enemy. I definitely agree on your point that the more you think about the movie, the better and more interesting it seems to get.

Will:    Aidan Devine plays a fantastic villain and the cold and calculated performance from Kate Greenhouse bring the film up a notch. Without them, this would never have worked like it did.

Liam: I think I was engaged enough from the beginning because of the weird chemistry between Kate Greenhouse and Aidan Devine’s characters. Greenhouse as Dr. Goodman is cunning and ruthless, but you’re never totally alienated by her. Aidan Devine brings all the charm, unpredictability and cruelty you could hope for and fear in a psychopath like Harlan Pyne, and together they make quite the pair. I also agree that if it weren’t for the two of them, it wouldn’t have been as good, and I would have lost interest sooner.

Will: Darn, I was hoping you would hate the film. That would make for a more heated discussion!

Liam: If readers were expecting a more heated debate, I hope what they do take away from this more cordial discussion is that The Dark Hours really is a unique film and people should see it, even if they come to different conclusions about it than we did.

Will: If anybody is really looking for a heated debate, perhaps we could start randomly cursing at each other! You’re right though, if anything comes from all this, it’s that people should really seek out this film.

Liam: I like that the movie’s title took on multiple meanings after watching it. Also, I loved the way Dr. Goodman’s own sense of justice and balance are reflected in the events of the movie in a way that fits with more than one interpretation.

Will: This one certainly takes the home invasion plot and turns it upside down, but much of that has to do with where things end up. Without any sort of twist towards the end, you’re left with a very run-of-the-mill kind of film. I think my interest started to wane because it seemed like the most intense moments came early on. The game of truth or dare wasn’t quite as powerful as the first game they played, even though the outcome of the final game leads right into the reveal.

Liam: I think that even if the last game ended up being less sinister, they make up for it in its strange twist. It becomes dark and frightening, but in a totally different way, taking on the qualities of a psychological thriller. The fact that Harlan seems to become more reasonable and Samantha more vicious is one reason why this movie is more than a straight horror flick. This may be its greatest strength, and its greatest weakness, especially for people who go in hoping for something more purely horror. I love being scared, but because it does more than that it’s more memorable as a film, which I think is definitely worth something.

Will: Speaking of the twist in the film, do you think that there were too many clues given away too soon, or do they just become those ‘aha’ moments when you get the final reveal? Thinking back, it seems so obvious and you start to wonder how you didn’t notice it right from the start. With so many little clues, the final realization seems to lose a bit of its shock value though. Instead of being completely blindsided, you wind up casually saying ‘I thought something was odd’. It works better in terms of the entire film, giving you a different view on everything that has happened, and increasing the enjoyment of a repeat viewing, but there’s a lack of great surprise when you find out.

Liam: For my part, if a movie has a surprise ending it should have more going for it than the surprise ending, especially since you can only enjoy the surprise once. I’ll admit they probably could have left out one or two clues, but it didn’t feel heavy-handed to me either. I got the feeling that clearly something strange was happening, but I didn’t know what direction it would take or what kind of something strange it was, so it still shocked me.

Will: What about some of the more shocking moments in the film? The early scene with the dog actually made me physically react. I sat straight up and had to lean back a bit, I just couldn’t believe what was happening. It’s the kind of scene that makes you want to pause for a second, just to absorb what happened. I would think you’d want the same reaction from the end of the movie, but it just didn’t happen for me, and is probably the best reason why my attention was lost as the film went on.

Liam: I’m glad you mentioned the shocking moments in the film, Will. I feel like I’ve been fixating too much on the ending and the clues and such, that I haven’t even mentioned some of the gruesome places it goes along the ride. There was a good amount of gore, but they also knew when to hold back.

Will: The film still has plenty of bloody moments, it just happens to have an intelligent story behind it as well. That’s really the best kind of horror. Usually audiences are given expendable characters that exist only to be killed, and it’s not that often that you find an entire cast of characters that are enjoyable to watch. From the good guys to the bad guys, you almost hate to see anybody get killed here.

Liam: Yeah, I really liked the fact that every character had an important part to play in the story, and wasn’t just collateral damage for the maniac with the knife (or gun, axe, etc.).

Will: I think the saddest thing about the film is the painful box office that it took in when it was released. It hurts a little more when you realize that the film is much better than that, and that it’s Canadian as well. I’m not sure if that says a lot about the success of Canadian films outside of Canada, or if it speaks more towards the way in which a film should be marketed. Until this assignment, I had never heard of this film, and I certainly don’t remember anything about it during the original release. It’s a shame that more Canadian films like this don’t get the kind of push they need in their own country.

Is The Dark Hours Essential Canadian Cinema?

Liam: The Dark Hours is not a flawless movie, and not everybody will enjoy it. I wish the supporting actors were as fun to watch as Greenhouse and Devine. But I think the best thing about this film is the interesting way it tells its story, a way that rewards multiple viewings. For this reason alone I’d be so bold as to call it Essential Canadian Cinema. Grim, suspenseful and smart, I think The Dark Hours is definitely a film more people should see.

Will: I’d agree that this is Essential Canadian Cinema. Horror films in Canada have only been a small piece of the recent history of cinema, and it’s also rare that audiences get a horror film that is intelligent and disturbing. For those reasons, this is a must see film. Great performances, impressive story, and a twist that supports repeat viewings. How can that not be essential?

The TFS Verdict: Lock your doors, turn out the lights and grab some popcorn. Under-appreciated Canadian creeper The Dark Hours is very definitely Essential Canadian Cinema.

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