In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it.
Originally posted on MovieJawn.
There’s a lot to like about The Night, and if not for a third act that sags, it borders on great for the majority of its runtime. Making fantastic use of its single location concept and populating it with two extremely compelling characters as well as some off-kilter supporting roles, I was drawn in from moment one. So much so that I’m willing to forgive a somewhat tasteless plot development upon which much of the story hinges. But I get ahead of myself.
The film opens with a quote that I regret not writing down, but in hindsight, I’m unsure of how it ties into things. It says something about multiverses, and upon initially reading it, I was thinking that maybe this film would be adjacent to one of my favorite recent genre flicks, Coherence. As it turns out, plot-wise, it is nothing like Coherence, but stylistically, there are a lot of points of comparison. Most notably The Night is also a small story which uses big ideas to freak out its audience, and also features a game cast who truly understand the unique tone of the material. No multiverses as far as I can see, but a handful of fun twists and turns satisfied on the same level.
The story follows Babak (Shahab Hosseini) and Neda (Niousha Noor), a couple on their way home from a dinner party. They’ve got a long drive ahead of themselves, and a sleeping infant in the back seat. Neda has a suspended drivers license, and since Babak is a little too drunk to drive, they decide to stop off at a hotel and finish their trip in the morning. The hotel is nothing special, the sort of quaint-but-not-really architecture that can only be found in Los Angeles. The concierge seems nice enough. He’s a little too polite, if not a bit melancholy, but the general weirdness of the locale overall makes these concerns easy to dismiss. There’s only a single suite available, so it will have to do. No matter, sleep is what’s in order, and the sooner Babak and Neda can get to bed, the sooner they can wake up and get home.
But sleep does not come easy. Soon there are unexplainable noises, apparitions, logical inconsistencies, and any of a number of supernatural occurrences to contend with. It is in this section the that The Night really sings. The scares come quickly and regularly, and mixed in with garden variety frights are some very cleverly constructed sequences that unspool through increasingly shocking rug-pulls. Just when I thought I knew what the next gag would be, something wild would come out of left field. The scares are not empty either. Babak and Neda have a believable chemistry, capturing the tensions that would lead to their predicament, and fueling the decisions that they make as they move through it. As the freaky occurrences begin to take on thematic resonance, the grip that The Night has on the viewer is at its tightest.
Unfortunately, when it becomes time to tie the scares to the themes, that grip loosens. When vague notions of marital distrust give way to actual specifics, the film takes a notable misstep. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil, but the morality play that motivates the supernatural goings on feels a bit off. Since this is an Iranian/American production there exists a need to leave critical space for cultural differences (as well as for a subtitles track that translates from Persian), but in the moment it feels a bit sexist. It also feels like an incomplete conclusion. While there seems to be an attempt to mitigate the potential misogyny, it doesn’t quite gel in the wake of what’s been established, and if I’m being honest, I’m unsure if I even understood it. I really want to give it the benefit of the doubt, since a slight shift in tone would make it clearer just what is being said, but as it played out on the screen, I groaned. That said, this is the type of movie I look forward to revisiting with the ending already in sight, and I suspect the clarity I seek will be there.
Director Kourosh Ahari, who co-wrote with Milad Jarmooz, has a very keen eye for detail. The type of scares being put on display are not based in shrieks and jolts, but in establishing a reality and then swiftly subverting it—taking the viewer’s expectations into note and then wrenching leftward from there. Ahari establishes a strong visual geography only to break it, making the single setting feel like a Pandora’s box of horrors, with different permutations of every variable being tweaked for maximum disorientation. But this disorientation never puts the viewer at a distance, instead keeping them on edge with the tact of a clinician. It’s for this reason that it’s easy to forgive the film for not quite bringing it home thematically. If you want to be spooked, this one is very worth your time.