Independent Film Review: Dark of Winter (2012)

HWIC Filmworks - Command Pictures
Runtime: 83 minutes
Rated: NO MPAA rating
Director: David C. Snyder
Starring: Kyle Jason, Kevin M. Hayes, Erica Paisley
Drama / Horror

Dark of Winter is about “John French” (Kyle Jason), a professional hit-man, who, midway through a job, finds out that “Gary Kliest” (the man responsible for what happened to his daughter some ten years back) is out on parole. During this time, French runs into “Sarah,” an old friend of his daughter’s. French must make sense of the chaos before the mystery surrounding it consumes him.

Written and directed by David C. Snyder who brought us The Quiet Arrangement (2010), Dark of Winter is another in the line of (now not so welcomed) “mind-bender” movies that resort to reversing the plot’s direction or otherwise force the audience to determine which events are in the main character’s head and which are not. Two of the previous film’s stars (Kevin M. Hayes and Kyle Jason) are back, although they reemerge in characters very similar to their previous roles in a movie that seems strikingly familiar.

What transpires is a slow and very difficult-to-follow story, taking us through a smorgasbord of everything from little (and big) mistakes to overly cautious and reserved performances. Snyder’s previous work at least made you care for its two leads when all was said and done. This film doesn’t do us that honor, but what it does do is improve the acting by cutting down on the type of oversold performances we got in his first work. That is a huge plus—and would have meant more had we not had the opposite problem of performances that aren’t really committed.

No one really cares for anyone in Dark of Winter, not when everyone acts like lifeless stand-ins who have not successfully been given the chance to absorb who it is they are supposed to be playing. If it can be said that we ever understand the movie (a serious, serious challenge in and of itself), it still remains a challenge to understand the character of French who never gives us a consistent picture of a man in struggle. Bottom line: We just can’t relate to anyone in any real way.

The little mistakes we get range from camerawork that alternates from shifting to stable to overkill on the scenery and details. It is always a shame to see a film falter on a surplus of details, but we can’t overlook them here. Sometimes we’re staring at things and we don’t know why. The story drags as we get to watch French – killing, drinking, and contemplating – this over and over again in repeat succession. French puts a glass to his mouth more times than he pulls his gun. The movie feels like it’s going nowhere, but we aren’t exactly bored, either, just put off by a lack of appeal while the gore of nicely executed body shots and brains splattering starts to feel like it was intended to replace a story with raw emotional investment.

And a lack of investment is what we get on the takedowns. When someone forces himself on you while breaking into your home, it’s a loud, disturbing affair that usually gets attention, but it never seems to here and we aren’t disturbed by it when it happens. We get one long and torturously sound-tracked love scene and an ending that pretty much takes things from bad to worse.

The repetitious fade-outs and ins-and-outs of sounds (like something from a kid’s Haunted House-themed soundtrack) further annoy us. When French beats a man to an almost literal bloody pulp with the butt of his gun, the strikes sound canned. The gunshots, by contrast, sound as real as those on a firing range. And that’s the problem: We start to feel like this is more of an experimental film project than a labor-of-love effort. The markings of a clear vision behind this are simply not to be found.

What Dark of Winter ultimately fails to do is serve up a story that we can relate to or in any way benefit from. This is unfortunate in that Snyder's feel for selecting locations and atmospheres is second to none.

Part of the reason I am uncomfortable putting a grade on it is that this film was the result of a challenge undertaken, a two-week effort with editing done from start to finish in that ridiculously short timeframe. And yes, it feels like it.