The Night (2020) ☆☆☆(3/4): An isolated night of terror

“The Night” is a little creepy psychological horror film mainly revolving around one isolated night of terror within some big hotel in LA. While clearly influenced by a number of other horror films such as, yes, “The Shining” (1980), the movie attempts to do its own stuffs via the specific cultural background of its two main characters, and the overall result is fairly solid enough to hold our attention up even though it is a bit too frustratingly ambiguous to delve into the pain and guilt at the center of its dark drama.

After the disturbing opening shot showing one of its two main characters looking at a mirror, the movie switches onto a cheerier mode as showing one ordinary evening dinner meeting they are attending. They are Babak Naderi (Shahab Hosseini) and his wife Neda (Niousha Jafarian), and we gradually get to know them more as these Iranian American couple are casually playing a parlor game along with their close friends at the house belonging to one of their close friends. They seem to be a happy married couple with their dear one-year-old daughter who was also incidentally brought there, but they were actually separated from each other for several years before Neda eventually came to US from Iran, and we come to sense that Neda is still not that accustomed to her new living environment.

The gap between Neda and her husband becomes more evident to us when the evening party is eventually over, and they are ready to go back to their residence along with their little daughter. Although he already drank a few glasses of vodka, Babak insists that he should drive their car, and Neda reluctantly lets her husband do that despite her concern. Babak looks fine enough to drive the car, but, for some reason, the navigation system in their car does not work very well, and, to the frustration of both, they find themselves getting lost again and again during next several hours.

After a sudden mysterious incident, Neda becomes more concerned and frustrated, so she comes to insist that they just go to any nearby hotel and then sleep there, and Babak grudgingly agrees to that. Fortunately, there happens to be a big old hotel not so far from where they are for now, and they soon check into one of its many rooms where they are finally going to get some good sleep.

However, of course, there were already bad signs as Neda and Babak went inside this hotel in question. For instance, they had a rather unpleasant encounter with an old black dude on crutches in front of the hotel, and there is also something fishy about the receptionist of the hotel, who looks as courteous as you can expect but subtly exudes an unnerving aura along with the seemingly posh but dimly lighted interior of the hotel. When I later checked Wikipedia shortly after watching the film, I was a bit surprised to learn that this hotel does exist in LA, and I actually considered visiting this hotel someday, though it is probably not as spooky as what is shown in the movie.

Anyway, Babak and Neda subsequently try to sleep along with their little daughter in a hotel room given to them, but then a series of odd things happen around them. As experiencing several disturbingly confusing moments which do not seem to make sense to him, Babak becomes more unnerved in addition to being more annoyed by his toothache, and he and his wife somehow get stuck inside the hotel with no one to help around them. While understandably perplexed by her husband’s increasingly agitated appearance at first, Neda also begins to experience strange things, and both she and her husband come to sense more of something insidious hovering over them in the hotel.

As its two main characters are cornered and pressured more and more along the story, the movie steadily increases the sense of isolation and helplessness around the screen while often throwing effectively chilling moments to be appreciated. In case of one particular scene involved with a certain figure who supposedly comes to the hotel for help, the mood slowly becomes more uncomfortable as that figure responds to Babak and Neda with indirect aggressiveness, and then the movie pulls out the rugs from under them for throwing more terror and confusion into their worsening situation.

Around its last act, the screenplay by director/co-producer Kourosh Ahari and his co-writer Milad Jarmooz stumbles a little as finally revealing a bit of what is exactly lying behind its two main characters’ relationship. I was initially dissatisfied to some degree because I thought the movie depends too much on ambiguity without enough explanation, but, considering what it is really about, Ahari’s storytelling choice works on the whole, and his skillful direction keeps things rolling up to the very last scene, which succinctly conveys to us the gloomy consequence of guilt and denial while also resonating with the very first scene in the film.

The movie is also anchored well by its two strong lead performances. While Shahab Hosseini, who has mainly been known for his acclaimed performances in Asghar Farhadi’s Oscar-winning films “A Separation” (2011) and “The Salesman” (2016), deftly depicts his character’s growing fear and anxiety, his co-star Niousha Jafarian holds her own place well besides her co-star, and several supporting performers including George Macquire and Michael Graham bring extra tension and menace to the film.

Because it depends more on mood and emotion instead of narrative, “The Night” may frustrate you more than once, but it is still worthwhile to watch for a number of well-executed moments besides its palpably ominous atmosphere and commendable acting. Ahari surely demonstrates here that he is a good filmmaker to watch, and I guess I can have some expectation on whatever will come next from him in the future.

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