Rarely has a poster blurb been as accurate as the one stating “It’s THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT meets THE RING” on Allen Kellogg’s 7 NIGHTS OF DARKNESS, as this often inspired found-footage film feels like a mash-up of some of the horror all-stars from the past decade. Toss in a bit of a bit of SESSION 9, add a pinch of modern gameshow fascination, mix liberally with GHOST HUNTERS and (half) bake for 90 minutes. Of course, being slightly derivative doesn’t make a project bad, and 7 NIGHTS OF DARKNESS works thanks to a really talented group of actors who commit themselves totally to the concept, and Kellogg’s ability to ramp up the creepy imagery at the right moments. Somehow despite the pitfalls of the found footage genre, and its overexposure in recent years, there are enough interesting twists here to sustain its surprisingly brisk 90 minutes.
It’s an interesting, though unlikely, concept. Six strangers are taking part in a game show which tasks them with staying for seven nights in a supposedly haunted asylum. Aside from a single task they have to perform each day, their only goal is to not leave the building and whoever remains at the end of the week gets to split a million dollars. The conceit here is that each member is provided a camera with which to film their experiences, along with talking head interview segments, but are given no actual direction once inside the asylum. No host, and no assistance.. not even someone to help them learn how to use the equipment. While at first there’s plenty of goofing around from the game participants, after a seance (led by the ghost obsessed Lina) things take a turn for the spooky. Lina appears to be possessed, while contestants start to see the image of a little girl appearing in the halls. How long can they survive the 7 Nights of Darkness?
Yeah, it’s a little difficult to swallow that any production company would hedge the quality of their show on six strangers without a crew or host, but if you can get past that – and the sometimes shaky audio quality when characters are talking directly to the camera – 7 NIGHTS OF DARKNESS has a definite way of getting under your skin. Even if the found footage thing is played out at this point, there’s something inherently creepy about the grainy video and the promise of something lurking just beyond the frame. That Kellogg (who also plays the character of Carter) fleshes out the various personalities of the characters, who are all pretty likable and – aside from the purposely irritating Lina (Jennifer Hoffman) – don’t fall into easy categorizations, makes their eventual fate all the more tragic. While I’m a natural born skeptic, and scoff openly at “Ghost Hunters” style television, I’ll admit that once things ramp up in the film there are moments of legitimate tension.
Much of the credit has to go to the cast, including Kellogg himself who gets to deliver the film’s most memorable monologue. I complain about the quality of acting in low-budget productions regularly in this column, so seeing a group deliver a lot of seemingly unscripted material in a believable way really stands out. Meredith Kochan as Brooke gives a standout performance, making the confusion and eventual terror feel surprisingly real. Also strong is Larry Nehring as the skeptical John, who makes the interesting decision to simply hide away and attempt to ride out the rest of the seven days in isolation. You might be able to guess how well that works out for him.
But a film like this requires a lot more than quality acting, particularly as nearly half the running time is devoted to grainy, badly lit footage. Thankfully Kellogg decides to ramp things up slowly, even pulling back a little to give the characters time to breathe before letting loose in the final fifteen minutes. While the imagery is familiar – from THE RING, to THE SHINING, to THE GRUDGE – it’s also awfully effective, and the unhinged fear of the participants feels awfully real. While this type of film is rejected outright by a certain portion of the audience who still rail against the limitations of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, in a darkened room this material remains awfully effective.
While most of the scares come simply from the creepy and off-putting imagery, there are also a few minor, though generally effective, special effects which add to the supernatural creepiness. One particular moment – unfortunately revealed in the trailer – involves a confined character’s face twisting grotesquely, and makes for a very fun scare. Perhaps the film’s best moment involves an extended scene in a bathroom which somehow makes a toilet stall terrifying, and it’s impressive how Kellogg is able to pay off these quieter moments considering his limited funds.
Technical specs are about what you might expect, though sparkling video quality is obviously not the point. Still, the scenes that take place during the daytime are well lit and very watchable, while even at its grainiest you’re unlikely to be confused about what’s going on. Occasionally the sound echoes unpleasantly around the cavernous location, but dialogue is consistently intelligible. More problematic on my screener copy were some interlacing issues with the video, though this is unlikely to affect the final version.
The trailer below gives you a good idea of what you’re getting into with 7 NIGHTS OF DARKNESS. While derivative, it has some interesting tricks up its sleeve, a great (though hard to swallow) premise and a game cast that ably maintain the tension wrung out of the clever visual tricks. Unlike most of its low-budget brethren, there are actual scares to be found here, and there’s enough variety to prevent the grainy POV shots from wearing out their welcome. A worthy addition to the found footage club, and definitely worth your time.
Two Nightmares out of Five – SHOCKING SUCCESS
One Nightmare – No-Budget Perfection, Two Nightmares – Shocking Success, Three Nightmares – Shows Potential, Four Nightmares – Not Much Fun, Five Nightmares – Please Kill Me
Join me later this week for an interview with 7 NIGHTS OF DARKNESS director Allen Kellogg!
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