Psychological thriller “The Night” masters the familiar haunted hotel setting with technical excellence.
Originally published on Elements of Madness
Kourosh Ahari’s psychological thriller, The Night, is a stellar example of a film that may not have the next best original ideas within its genre, but is so well done that it is nonetheless entertaining and worthwhile. Despite a handful of predictable plot points and stereotypical gendered conflicts, The Night’s talented cast and distinct style create a spine-chilling, mind-bending, what-did-I-just-watch experience that reminds us why the horror genre is so exciting.
While driving home from dinner with their friends, young couple Babak (Shahab Hosseini) and Neda (Niousha Jafarian) run into a number of problems on the road due to Babak’s intoxicated driving and a severe GPS malfunction. Tired, frustrated, and desperate to calm their fussy infant daughter, they decide to spend the night at the first hotel they can find, the foreboding Normandie. Tensions rise as the couple argues over small, everyday disagreements that slowly reveal the more complex issues of their marriage. They settle in for what they hope will be a restful escape from their anxieties, only to face a night full of eerie noises, stalkers in the shadows, and a number of haunting surprises that break up the psychological tension with classic jump scares. As Babak and Neda struggle to understand what is happening in the hotel, they find themselves completely isolated and unable to escape a never-ending night.
The Night is a well-balanced and satisfying horror/thriller combo, weaving together moments of pure terror and fright with underlying and slow-burning psychological conflict. Ahari takes tried-and-true horror flick techniques and makes them feel interesting and exciting all over again with stunning technical elements that support the film’s anxious tone. The Night wastes no time in setting that tone and carries it throughout the entirety of the story with very few relaxed moments, creating a fairly intense viewing experience. The film opens with an eerily soothing voice-over from one of Babak and Neda’s friends as she narrates the popular party game, “Mafia,” a perfect introduction to the themes of the coming horror (in Mafia, one person is designated as the game’s narrator and instructs all the other players to close their eyes, signaling the start of the “night.” One player, secretly selected before the start of the game as the “mafia,” then opens their eyes and silently chooses another player to “kill off.” The narrator then informs the rest of the players which one of their teammates has “died” in the night.) Throughout the remainder of the opening scenes, as Babak and Neda enjoy dinner with their friends, The Night creates the feeling that there is something just slightly off about this seemingly ordinary gathering. The noticeable lack of score and the weighty conversations in the opening moments of The Night put the audience on alert for a horror that is yet to be revealed.
Aside from those opening dinner scenes, the lighting throughout The Night is dim and often red-tinted with flickering neons that give the Normamdie a distinctly haunted aura. The set seems to evoke the spirits of haunted hotels from horror cinema past, as if the Normandie is possessed by the same terror as other infamous movie settings like the Overlook (The Shining). The visual style of The Night is also deep, rich, and saturated. The near-constant dimness allows the film to obscure important details like, for example, Neda and Babak’s faces, causing us to question our trust of the main characters as they move through the shadows of the hotel. Additionally, Navid Hejazi’s strong score supports the film’s tone with predictable (but effective) crescendos that preceded jump scares and with unsettled, otherworldly passages that enhance the mounting psychological tension.
Babak and Neda each must work through intense internal conflict throughout their stay at the Normandie. The ghosts and spirits of the hotel create visions and hallucinations that bring the couple’s shame and secrets to the surface. As these secrets are revealed, the conflicts turn out to be somewhat predictable and stereotypical for a young couple trying to navigate marriage and maintain their individual identities, but Hosseini and Jafarain give their characters enough subtlety and nuance that we can easily ignore the story’s lack of originality. Throughout The Night, Babak and Neda face both personal demons and environmental terrors, requiring rapid shifts in tone and emotion. Jafarian excels in changing her mannerisms and body language throughout The Night for all that the rollercoaster of horrific events requires. Hosseini also gives an incredible performance, mastering both Babak’s terror and his stubborn resolve to maintain the status quo of his family.
With a combination of cohesive technical elements, consistent tone, and masterful style, The Night develops a sort of cursed and unnatural feel that really takes the film to the next level. Again, the story itself isn’t necessarily the most original, the twists of the plot don’t have quite the same shock factor as other notable thrillers, and the script overall is loose and vague. And yet, the imagery and details of The Night are so effective that the film’s narrative faults fade into the background. The Night has distinct moments of off-putting, biting visual imagery that quickly burn themselves into your memory, somewhat comparable to horror director Ari Aster’s (Hereditary and Midsommar) personal style. The images are so creepy and unnatural that the horror becomes tangible. Techniques like sudden dramatic angles that break from the established pattern of cinematography, unnatural body movements, and lengthy shots of wide-eyed faces in the dark all give The Night a memorable edge. Even if you can predict what’s coming, The Night is sure to give you chills.
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