On paper, 7 Nights of Darkness shouldn’t have worked. And it barely did. It was low budget to the nth degree, and Allen Kellogg is not only credited as the lead actor, but also the writer, director, producer, and editor. Ed Wood should have just flashed through your head, as he did mine while the credits of 7 Nights rolled. The film, on its own merits, wasn’t bad. It doesn’t come anywhere near the heights of its POV-ghost-hunting brethren like Paranormal Activity or Grave Encounters, but it could easily have been just another piece of shit direct-to-video trash hole.
I give Kellogg semi-credit for finally committing to film an obvious premise like ghost hunters investigating a supposedly haunted building and actually coming across real ghosts(!) That may come across as a slight against the film (and I guess it kind of is), but seriously…it’s about time someone finally brought that concept to a film. That premise was just hanging around in the air, waiting for someone to grab at it and nail it down. And while it would be easy to just accuse 7 Nights of being a rip-off of the very similarly themed Grave Encounters (which was shot in 2009 and made film festival rounds for nearly two years), I have enough knowledge of low budget filmmaking to know that small, passion projects like these can sometimes take years to complete. In this case, I’ll give 7 Nights the benefit of the doubt that this premise came about organically, and its creator could only say, “oh, God damn it,” when news of Grave Encounters began making the rounds.
The plot is fairly simple: six folks (four dudes, two chicks) are chosen to spend seven nights in Madison Seminary, an abandoned and allegedly haunted building. Those who remain in the building all seven nights will be rewarded with a million dollars to split between them. They are to film everything at all times, and they are to complete a task assigned to them each night they are there. Failure to follow these orders will be considered non-compliance, and the offer becomes void.
Needless to say, the inhuman sounds begin, as do the fuzzy sightings of something leering in the corner. The creepy set pieces begin to escalate…and people start to disappear.
Kellogg as a director does a nice job of working well within his budget and manages to create some genuinely creepy moments—some of which you may see coming, but are still effective, anyway. (Fuck that doll.)
Kellogg as a writer is also quite competent. At no point does any character ever do something beyond belief—and one of them even surprises you with a clever revelation of their own. Everyone reacts how one should react (well, mostly…until the end)—and this is a real service to the film.
The ending is quite Blair Witch-inspired (let’s face it, no one ever survives the found footage sub-genre, do they?), and if you’re watching the film under the right circumstances, it’s a satisfyingly creepy conclusion to the journey.
I’ve seen a lot of garbage over the years—ranging from the A-list to off-the-alphabet low budgeters that offend you with the thought of their very existence. When 7 Nights began, I honestly thought it didn’t have a prayer. The caliber of acting in the film becomes painfully clear almost immediately, and my own personal prejudice against low budget horror admittedly made me discard the idea that Kellogg purposely attempted to fill his cast with “real” people instead of raiding a local community acting troupe. While I won’t say the performances are across-the-board bad (Meredith Kochan’s Brooke comes across as very natural and believable), let’s just say some of these folks need to seriously reconsider their future as actors. Kellogg’s own performance as Carter left a lot to be desired: His “natural” attempts at humor came across as forced and utterly obnoxious, and for me he was nearly the most unlikeable character in the film. (That honor goes to Todd, played by Mick Garris doppelganger Larry Nehring, who [betraying my role as a “professional” reviewer for a moment], acts like a total bitch from his first minute until his last.) At one point in the film, when one of the film’s characters insists on investigating a crawl space under a set of stairs, Kellogg’s Carter literally repeats derivates of ”wait,” “stop,” and “don’t go in there,” so many times I literally wanted to rip the DVD out of my player and throw it at my neighbor’s dog. By the time Carter’s tearful third-act revelation in his private diary video entry takes place, which would have been a great service in establishing sympathy, it is too little, too late. And despite his desire to become “the leader” of the remaining characters, he spends the rest of the movie hiding in a room and begging everyone to just stay there with him.
Lastly – and this is more nit-picky than anything else – why is this film taking place in a seminary? At no point in the film is religion mentioned – nor anything having to do with priests. But what we do see, however, is a medical chair allegedly used for lobotomies. Why is this chair in a seminary? Did the filmmakers suffer a brain fart and call it Madison Seminary when they really meant Madison Sanitarium? Or am I just a dumb ass who was asleep when this chapter was discussed during Common Sense 101?
The Low Down:
All in all, I’ve seen a lot worse in this sub-genre. It’s certainly better than both Apollo 18 and Atrocious—two POV flicks that received much more attention and were actually turgid wastes of every filmmaking-related resource. In the right frame of mind, and if you’re forgiving of supremely low budget films, this is a gem, while unpolished, that is still worth your time.