Some say the off-season in the Hamptons leaves something to be desired. It’s deserted, barren, cold and, oftentimes, downright spooky.
And so, it was by no accident that Manhattan-based director Jack Heller chose to shoot his latest film, the horror-drama “Dark Was The Night,” right here, starring a new monster no one has ever seen before—one whose description its creators are keeping close to the vest.
On a misty, overcast afternoon in Southampton Village earlier this month, Caliber Media Co. partners Mr. Heller and producer Dallas Sonnier left Catena’s—the film crew’s quasi-headquarters—crossed Jagger Lane and then Main Street to get to their latest shooting location: the United Methodist Church.
“Aesthetically, from the outside on a day like today, you couldn’t ask for a better motif,” Mr. Heller, a lifelong summer Southampton resident, noted as he crossed Jagger Lane, eyes on the church. “It just looks haunting.”
Filming wrapped up this week on “Dark Was The Night,” marking the close of Mr. Heller’s third consecutive year making low-budget movies on the East End, he said over a late lunch at Catena’s on Thursday, March 1. With two other films under his belt, including last year’s drama, “Refuge,” the 29-year-old director is already thinking about his next Hamptons project, he said.
“We want to make a new movie here every winter,” he said. “And with this budget, there’s hundreds of thousands of dollars coming to the town, the local businesses. The other films were a little smaller, but this one is really pumping it in, especially in terms of food and hotels,” he said, later adding that “there’s nothing big budget about this film,” though it is the largest budget thus far and considerably better-funded than his first East End film, the thriller “Enter Nowhere,” which was made with $200,000.
“There’s definitely guys who give what we do a bad name and abuse everything, but I’ve been coming out here my whole life and this is our third film here,” Mr. Heller continued. “We just want to be part of the community. We’d love to be that group of people where it’s, ‘Oh yeah, it’s February. Those guys are back.’”
The key to filming on the East End is first finding a script that fits into the “Southampton box,” Mr. Heller explained, with a laugh. There is not a particularly scientific formula behind it, he said. It is more about practicality and a gut feeling.
“It’s not ‘Transformers,’ right? We don’t need a New York City skid row kind of thing. We don’t need a high rise. We don’t need outer space,” Mr. Heller said. “Every location in this film, I instantly, as I read, said, ‘I could set that there, I could set that there, I could set that there.’ It was just perfect.”
“Dark Was The Night,” penned by Tyler Hisel, is a horror-drama set in a remote, northeastern woodland community in fictional Maiden Woods County. The film’s premise focuses on an unknown evil unleashed on the town when a greedy logging company encroaches on the surrounding forests.
Meanwhile, the local sheriff—played by Kevin Durand from the films “Real Steel,” “I Am Number Four” and the television series, “Lost”—is dealing with the death of his oldest son that is slowly ripping his family apart. In order to repair the damage, and to save the town, he needs to face the demons of the tragedy—which is where the horror element comes in—as well as a much more real, internal fear, Mr. Heller explained.
“Think of the monster as a personification of the sheriff’s fear,” Mr. Sonnier explained. “It’s not directly related to the death of his son but it becomes his opportunity, involuntary at that, to regain his mojo and fight back.”
The film co-stars Lukas Haas, who starred in the film “Inception.” His character is a New York City cop who blames himself for the death of his partner and has run away to this small, very blue-collar town to escape his fears.
“This is really a family drama that ultimately has an angle to it where the family’s deepest fear has become true,” Mr. Heller said. “But everyone has to face their inner demons and tragedies, and accept them, and not blame themselves in order to fight the bigger fight that the film is about in the end.”
The cast and crew—Mr. Heller’s largest yet, coming in at more than 60 people—began shooting on Sunday, February 19, and the filming will wrap on Saturday, March 17. The time frame gave Mr. Heller and Mr. Sonnier four weeks to make the movie, a week longer than they allotted to make their previous East End feature films.