Every few years, there are rumblings in genre circles about the potential for a Slasher revival. Ultimately, these turn out to be little more than generated hype around a certain film, or sometimes a string of films, which generally end up distributed straight to DVD or VOD with a negligible impact on the industry. These rumblings have sort of crept back into discussion in the last few years, with the production of films like the Stage Fright remake and Final Girls (set to release this year). Other than these somewhat higher profile films, there has been a sea of smaller titles released, Lost After Dark seeming to carry the most promise.
One big problem — certainly not a new one in the horror world — is that marketing can often oversell a film. Other than the preliminary reviews that film received through its screenings at a few international festivals, Lost After Dark made its first big impression on the horror community via the release of Justin Erickson’s stunning poster design. The poster perfectly sums up the film’s intentions, a retro-throwback that more than implies the heyday of the Slasher. Not enough praise can be given to Erickson’s work. Beyond some of the after-market work (brands like Mondo), it’s one of the best posters in recent memory. Sadly, the film can’t quite keep up with the expectations and its largest ambitions prove to be its biggest downfalls.
To be forthright, Lost After Dark is not a particularly bad film. There is a lot in the scope of its ambitions and execution that can and should be praised. The real problems stem from a few missteps along the way that result in very unfortunate results. The film follows forth from an interesting conceit: set in the ‘80s, Lost After Dark is more than just homage to the Slasher days, it’s attempting to recreate them. The tagline, “And you thought the 80s were dead…,” only reinforces this ambition, of course with a little pun dropped in. Like most retro-fetishist films the problem is, writer-director Ian Kessner’s focus is intermittent, at best.
Beyond the over-the-top, superficial ‘80’s clichés that become grating but are forgivable, the film really fails in terms of its special effects. Excuse the rhetorical question, but what would posses Kessner into thinking that an ‘80s Slasher throwback would benefit from CGI effects? It’s antithetical to the aspiration. It is still baffling that so much money is still wasted on lackluster CGI that only recreate things that can be done cheap on set, such as blood splatter and close-up gore. CGI has a place in film but certainly not here. In the film’s most disgusting (but not in the way you want it to be) use, Kessner attempts pays homage to Fulci-esque eye mutilation but ends up with the most dismal and distracting CGI in recent memory. Its truly irreprehensible and shocking that the scene (which takes up a great deal of screen time, only further showing its inherent faults) made it past quality control. Beyond the effects, Kessner decides to pull a Robert Rodriguez by throwing a “missing reel” segment into the film halfway through. The only purpose this serves is to manufacture false mystery; it’s a cheap tactic and does nothing to better the overall film.
There are refreshing aspects to Lost After Dark. Kessner and co-writer Bo Ransdell do throw a few genuine twists along the way that do help to undermine what could otherwise be a very mundane script, but they are not aggressive enough in their revisions of the conventions. It feels very superficial. Its very much a, ‘trick the viewers here to make them forget that the end result is very much business as usual.’ If you want really genre pushing, innovative horror cinema you’ll have to look elsewhere.
Having only worked on a single other feature length film (a Lifetime movie) and a series of shorts, director Ian Kessner is a fairly fresh face to the industry. There is promise to this work but it suffers from one too many sacrifices along the way. Recently Tarantino made big news with his quote that It Follows was a good film that you were mad at for not being great. While I disagree with QT on It Follows, I’d say that I got that feeling with Lost After Dark, but to a lesser degree. There was little doubt that it was going to be a great film, but the horror world could welcome a resurgence of solid Slasher efforts. Unfortunately, Lost After Dark is not quite there. This is a watchable but subpar effort that could have been, with a few tweaks in the writing and production, a very fun and worthwhile film. It’s worth a watch for those Slasher fanatics out there, but hedge your expectations as it will certainly fail to live up to them. Beyond the core audience base, viewers will most likely find Lost After Dark to be more of a hit than miss, but its certain to surprise everyone at least once.
Lost After Dark is now available on DVD, Blu-ray, and VOD via Anchor Bay