A glossy, well structured, yet familiar feeling debut from Kourosh Ahari, ‘The Night’ pits a young Iranian family against their own demons, whilst trapped in the foreboding Hotel Normandie.
Taking some very obvious cues from any number of Stephen King’s haunted residency chillers ‘The Night’ fluidly blends modern horror scares with some very traditional tension building, to good effect, albeit, if a little obvious (but more on that later).
The plot follows a young family, opening with them enjoying an evening with their friends. We see the family gathering, telling stories and dropping some not-so-subtle hints that there’s some secrets yet to be revealed between the couples. Despite living in the US, we are informed of the groups Iranian decent, and there’s a certain unease with the drinking and other taboos exhibited by the gentlemen in the group, an issue which is heightened when its time to drive home. Following some odd encounters on the road (alcohol intake aside), the couple, accompanied by their baby daughter, decide its best to pull into a hotel rather than risk any more issues. Once booked in, however, it seems their evening is only getting started.
With a large proportion of the dialogue delivered in Farsi, its clear that this movie, despite being US made (well US/Iranian) was not intended to only cater for western audiences. Indeed, upon further research it appears that ‘The Night’ is actually the first US movie to be shown in Iran for some time, and as such when referring to cliches it might, therefore, be worth noting that for the broader international market, such movies are yet to be viewed by large audiences.
Whilst strong acting, production values are evident from the get-go, where this movie shines is commitment to its atmosphere and it really doesn’t take long for the unease to settle in. The marriage is clearly not solid, there’s the kid to contend with (and the vulnerability associated with it) and there are clearly some undisclosed issues left to surface. As you might expect from the film’s title the film takes place exclusively at night, and as such, the streets are deserted, with what little light there is casting dark ominous shadows. There’s a couple of nice supernatural scares on the road which catch you a little off guard early on, which serve as a nice precursor for what we can expect the couple to endure once at their hotel destination. The film is very consistent in this way, having you focus on not only the threats, but the impact they have on the strengths (or lack thereof) of the characters relationships; without the film resorting to tension breaking drama/exposition.
The Hotel Normandie might not be as grand as ‘The Overlook’, but believe me, its décor fits the bill nicely, with its regal yet worn-in interior, large and unsettling renaissance paintings adorning its walls and there is a receptionist whose over-familiar welcome is warm yet somewhat sour. There’s a really consistent attention to detail with regards to the cinematography, lighting and sound design here which make this film, and more importantly the limited location, feel a lot more than the sum of its parts, and certainly above its production budget!
This feels like a studio release, married nicely with the heart of an indie film. Its not a film for casual fans either, as its slow burn, tension building atmosphere does require some investment in its characters and circumstance to get the most out of it.
Before going any further with the review it is almost impossible to talk about ‘The Night’ without comparing it to Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’ or even the more recent King adaptation ‘1408’ in terms of its mind (and time) bending psychological horror edge; yet the film fully develops and embraces its own style, ensuring that the jolts and scares don’t feel out of place, in what is otherwise, a very ‘real-world’ feeling horror.
Ironically, this is perhaps the area where ‘The Night’ suffers slightly, as with most things, once the subtlety and obscurity of the threats are revealed, they perhaps can’t reach the heights of imagination; that and the fact that the scares don’t deliver anything which hasn’t been done many times before. There are some decent jolts, some eerie images, but nothing too terror inducing. There are some hints at cruelty and violence, but again, nothing too boundary pushing and whilst the reveals to most scares are somewhat predictable, pay particular attention to the clever camera work and fairly awesome sound design which draw you into the moment, even if the payoff isn’t quite as impactful as it ort to be.
Overall, given its multiracial production, ‘The Night’ is perhaps more important as a cultural piece of cinema, than as a genre piece in an already saturated market. That said, if you are looking for a film which oozes style and atmosphere in a more traditional and dare, I say ‘mainstream’ vibe then ‘The Night’ is still very much well worth a watch.