Studio: IFC Midnight
Director: Kourosh Ahari
Writer: Milad Jarmooz, Kourosh Ahari
Producer: Jeffrey Allard, Cheryl Staurulakis, Armin Amiri, Mohammad Dormanesh, Kourosh Ahari, Alex Bretow
Stars: Shahab Hosseini, Niousha Noor
Trapped in a psychologically unsettling hotel, an Iranian couple confronts the personal secrets that trouble their marriage.
Some film fans recoil at the phrase ¡°elevated horror¡± because they take it as being arrogantly dismissive of movies that must therefore be ¡°beneath¡± them. That¡¯s not the intent of that term though. All horror simply is not created equal. It¡¯s disingenuous to pretend something such as ¡°Relic¡± (review here) isn¡¯t operating on a different level than say ¡°Puppet Master 5.¡± To instead insist they should be under one umbrella because they both belong to the same broad genre doesn¡¯t make better sense. It¡¯s hard to come up with an alternate word that doesn¡¯t sound somewhat haughty too, e.g. ¡°sophisticated¡± or ¡°refined.¡± But there¡¯s a big gap between productions from A24 and those from Troma. Using shorthand to differentiate between them shouldn¡¯t create a divisive debate.
I wouldn¡¯t give ¡°The Night¡± the full ¡°elevated¡± label, but I would call it ¡°adult¡± horror. As with ¡°elevated,¡± that shouldn¡¯t inherently imply that everything else must therefore be ¡°kiddie.¡± These aren¡¯t binary terms.
¡°The Night¡± opens at a small dinner party. Three couples calmly discuss marriage, raising children, and career difficulties. They drink chilled alcohol as an aperitif, delicately fashion kabobs for cooking, and ruminate on adjusting to life in America after emigrating from Iran. These aren¡¯t horny high-schoolers slugging from red Solo cups while faux metal music plays in the background. What I¡¯m saying is ¡°The Night¡± isn¡¯t a horror movie made to be rented for a 13-year-old¡¯s sleepover. It¡¯s meant for introspective reflection on its themes and coffeehouse discourse about its style. It¡¯s ¡°adult,¡± and not just because its main characters are of a certain age.
Press blurbs link ¡°The Night¡¯s¡± psychological suspense to that of Stanley Kubrick¡¯s ¡°The Shining.¡± I¡¯m not onboard with that stretched comparison. Both stories take place in haunted hotels that aggravate already fragile minds but really, big similarities stop at that shared setting.
Babak and Neda have hit a rough road in their relationship. They also literally hit rough road when a GPS malfunction, too much to drink for Babak, and running over a black cat leaves them looking for temporary accommodations for the evening.
Babak and Neda settle at Hotel Normandie, a place whose dimly lit interiors and apparent lack of any other living guests promise the peace they want for their infant daughter. On the other hand, a muttering homeless man outside, a desk clerk weirdly obsessed with discussing violent deaths, and ghostly visions promise a long night of unusual encounters. Hotel Normandie is somewhat entrancing yet sometimes perplexing. Most of that dichotomy appears intentional although some oddities may be due to criss-crossed wiring in set decoration. Otherwise outstanding in the sallow complexion of its cinematography and production design, it¡¯s curious that the hotel seems swank based on its lobby, hallways, and spiraling staircases, yet there¡¯s still a pulsing red glow outside Babak and Neda¡¯s suite window like the place rents rooms by the hour.
The blinking neon trope might owe to the film¡¯s live theater presentation. ¡°The Night¡± is constructed much like a play in terms of staging, tone, and in how characters converse with one another, which is primarily via one-on-one encounters.
Package all of the above in suggestive atmosphere and ¡°The Night¡± solidifies as a philosophical platform for exploring the mindscapes of the two protagonists. The plot isn¡¯t concerned with laying out much mythology, which audiences might expect when they hear ¡°haunted hotel.¡± In other words, ¡°The Night¡± is about people confronting personal problems, not the history behind a vengeful ghost¡¯s curse or anything like that.
As you¡¯ve no doubt gathered by now, ¡°The Night¡± qualifies as a slow burn. Though viewers may not necessarily feel a drag on the pace, they will notice that the movie is never in a hurry either. Babak and Neda don¡¯t even arrive at Hotel Normandie until the 20-minute mark in what turns out to be a lengthy hour and 45 minutes spent with two people trapped in a box of their own mind¡¯s making. Long-lasting shots like to linger when the camera stares down dark corridors or at Babak¡¯s shadowed face while he internally ponders his problems. Whether your patience matches that tempo is a matter of personal preference.
While brief flickers of an unidentified woman plague Babak, a boy who calls her ¡°Mommy¡± haunts Neda. Even without the copious clues couched in cryptic comments from other characters, I can¡¯t fathom anyone but the most oblivious viewer being unable to figure out who these phantom figures are. Babak and Neda are each keeping a secret from their spouse. I¡¯ll give you three guesses how the boy relates to Neda¡¯s past. Save the other two for Babak¡¯s frightening female and you¡¯ll still have one left over.
Since the movie emphasizes mood, the mystery¡¯s thinness doesn¡¯t hurt ¡°The Night¡± like it would a more fiction-focused film. Nevertheless, ¡°The Night¡± doesn¡¯t end up as a consistently fascinating supernatural chiller, although it¡¯s a far cry from a ho-hum haunter too. Noises from above and knocks at the door when no one is there can only take a horror movie so far, and that distance has difficulty covering ¡°The Night¡¯s¡± runtime. The movie makes up some of the missing mileage with intriguing performances, particularly from George Maguire and Michael Graham in their unsettlingly ¡°off¡± supporting roles, and from the light Persian patina over proceedings. Glibly, that might make ¡°The Night¡± reductively referred to as ¡°that one with the Iranian couple trapped in an empty hotel.¡± Even that makes for a more contemplative cinematic experience than something with a comedic killer doll. What that equals in entertainment value is up to you.
Review Score: 55