One Night Of Fear (Review)

ONE NIGHT OF FEAR

 

THE SETUP

Firstly I’d just like to say thank you to the people at  Four J’s Production, Caisson Films and 316 Productions for sending me an online screener of “One Night Of Fear”, Co-Written and Directed by Brian Troxell. One Night Of Fear is a Florida made Horror/Thriller about a trio of campers in the Ocala National Forest who are hunted by a deranged psychopath (played by Jason Sutton). Katie (played by Jessica Sonneborn of Bloody Bloody Bible Camp) and her boyfriend, Rob (Jimmy Dempster) have planned to meet up for a day of hiking with another couple and friend, Jaclyn (played by Suzi Lorraine from Pinup Dolls On Ice) *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/pinup-dolls-on-ice-review/. After Jaclyn escapes the madman and warns the couple, the trio take refuge in an abandoned cabin, but it’s not long before he tracks them down to finish what he started. The film also stars Russ Forga, Megan Sweet, Joel D. Wynkoop and Mel Heflin.

THE GOOD

There’s no second guessing the intent behind One Night Of Fear, and that was simply to make a slasher film for fans and the like to revel in. I hadn’t heard of Troxell, despite him having worked as a film maker since 2008, nor was I familiar with Dempster. None the less, I’m always open to the slasher sub-genre of horror and I enjoy supporting the little guy as much as I can. Troxell’s backwoods slasher (although this is not your garden variety hillbilly romp) is certainly a paint by numbers entry, which is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just that a dash of ingenuity often goes a long way when you’re building on a formulaic foundation. The Florida swampland and the cozy cabin in which the film are set, make for great locations and give off a higher production value then the films price tag would suggest. Paul Steward’s cinematography is generally pretty clean, with neat framing and gentle pans and raises via a glide cam. Some of the tracking shots looked impressive and there’s a few gorgeous shots at dusk which are probably the technical highlight. Most of the lighting looks good and the score is strongest when the main piano theme is present during the more dramatic scenes. There’s some cool 80s inspired synth thrown in here but I think it suffers due to some of its sequencing.

There’s not a lot here in the way of substance, particularly regarding our three key protagonists. Over the course of the short 72 minute running time we learn nothing of any real importance about them. We’re essentially just witness to a bunch of backhanded comments between Katie and Jaclyn, taking cheap shots at each other wherever possible between the killers repeated advances. I suppose it’s revealed quite early on that the couple don’t know Jaclyn that well, so Troxell does in a way cover his bases. The best piece of exposition comes in the form of two or three flashbacks depicting a young boy witnessing his grandfather (Joel D. Wynkoop) torturing and abusing his mother. It’s some rather cliché, albeit intense imagery that shows us that the now, killer, never really stood a chance. I think the two best performances in the film come from Russ Forga as Elmer, the park ranger (who closely resembles the late John Candy) and Jimmy Dempster as the leading male (who reminds me a hell of a lot of fellow actor, Jason Isaacs). I found their characters quite likeable, that and they were the only ones who made any sound decisions (relatively speaking). I enjoyed some of the action on display in One Night Of Fear and I give credit to Brian for throwing in some early nudity and a good kill, both within the opening five to ten minutes. There’s lack of logic in a lead up to one particular kill in the barn, but it can be forgiven somewhat considering they save face with practical effects during the kills. The highlight of which involves a decapitation and a bloody aftermath, good stuff!

THE BAD

One Night Of Fear has its fair share of technical inconsistencies, and some of the creative license taken wasn’t necessarily to my liking. The general dialogue audio levels are quite low (though keep in mind it’s just a screener and will differ depending on the quality of your speakers), but it’s the louder and more shrill screams from female characters that will have you reaching for the volume dial on more than one occasion. Most of the cinematography is solid but some of the macro shots are blurry, most notably when there’s action in the scene. Focus pulling can work wonders when implemented in beneficial places, unfortunately they don’t have much effect here. The practical effects were serviceable but the makeup depicting the battered and bruised protagonists wasn’t (namely Jaclyn). I think it’s the music that stood out as being the most poorly established aspect. Off kilter tones transition abruptly a number of times throughout the film. The beginning employ’s a rhythmic guitar with a western vibe, and then out of nowhere switches to synth. Suspenseful score cues when there’s nothing suspenseful happening, and at one stage the music drops out completely before the scene has even cut. Moreover, bizarre choices are made, like total room tone silence, backed with the sounds of middle eastern flute as Rob and the girls navigate the cabin upon their arrival. Overall the soundtrack and its mix are both a complete mess.

Sadly, it was the editing that I found most frustrating about One Night Of Fear. The final cut is jarring and sporadic in a number of places and I’m most disappointed that Troxell and Steward couldn’t see that. Maybe it’s just me but I’ve always believed that for the most part you stick with a scene for its full duration, particularly in low-budget film making. Just about every time One Night Of Fear gets something solid building (suspense wise), there’s a cut to something unrelated or something lacking activity. I understand it’s a technique that can sometimes be effective in creating relevant drama, but this isn’t the setting for it and it doesn’t make any sense to constantly quash any tension you’ve built, especially not in a Horror film. Little continuity inconsistencies are usually par for the course in the genre and One Night Of Fear is no exception. The ranger refers to the trio as “kids” when it’s obvious they’re adults, Jaclyn’s top gets covered in blood and in the scene that follows she’s got a clean shirt on, yet it’s been revealed that the cabin is completely void of amenities (as it’s a guest house). The opening scene intercuts between the killer whose killing at night, and the park ranger whose wandering the grounds during the day. That’s a sizeable continuity flaw unless they were supposed to have occurred on separate days, though why you’d join the two together I don’t know. I’ve seen both Jessica and Suzi in other independent films where I think they delivered stronger performances. I thought Sonneborn and Dempster lacked chemistry and therefore her line delivery suffered. A big part of their inconsistencies lie with some of the writing, but it’s Lorraine’s first scene that required an emotionally charged response and it just wasn’t at the level it needed to be in order to be believed.

One Night Of Fear is a little known independent slasher film comparable to the likes of 2013’s, “Axeman” aka (Axeman At Cutter’s Creek) and Drew Barnhardt’s, “Blood Cabin”. As a huge fan of the genre I can always get behind a slasher that decides to play it straight. I dug the Florida location, the set design and the crisp lighting. Most of the cinematography looks really good, most notably those couple of scenes at dusk. The 80’s esq synth works in certain places and the two male performances are decent. Troxell gives us a peek at the origin of the dirty, overall clad killer but it doesn’t make him any less nondescript. The best part of the film is the practical effects and a couple of the stand out kills, special mention to actress, Lowrie Fawley for her cameo and willingness to show off some nudity, I was impressed. The audio levels were up and down, so much so that some of the dialogue I couldn’t hear properly, certain shots lost their bearing and the music was poorly sequenced and badly mixed. Sizeable chunks of random editing killed any real shot at suspense and only further highlighted continuity issues for mine. I thought two of the three lead performances were below par, and in the end I think there’s a struggle to find enough material here to warrant a feature-length film and that’s perhaps why it only clocks in at 70 minutes (not including credits). I’m sure the cast and crew learnt a lot from the film and even though it’s not a slasher I’d really recommend, I applaud Brian and Co for getting this off the ground on such a small budget. If you enjoyed the aforementioned films or you’re a hardcore fan of the sub-genre, feel free to check out the trailer in the link below!

My rating for “One Night Of Fear” is 4/10

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