Film

Review: The Night Builds Sustained, Insulated Scares in a Hotel That Never Sees Dawn

With his new film The Night, director Kourosh Ahari made history by making the first U.S.-produced film to receive a license for theatrical release in Iran since the revolution in 1978-79. And I think it’s appropriate that the film that was made and delivered is a unique type of horror film, focusing on an Iranian couple living in Los Angeles who leave a tense dinner party with their newborn baby. The wife Neda (Niousha Noor) accuses her husband, Babak (Shahab Hosseini) of being too drunk to drive and after nearly getting in an accident, he agrees to put the family up in the off-the-beaten path Hotel Normandie for the night.

The Night

Image courtesy of IFC Films

Almost as soon as they settle in, strange things start be occur. A small boy begins to show himself to Neda, calling out for his mother, while Babak is haunted by visions of a mysterious woman whom he seems to vaguely recognize. Before long, the couple realize that not only are they trapped in the hotel but that they seem to be trapped in the night itself, as the sun refuses to rise even as morning approaches. On top of that, all of the forces at work in this eerie hotel seem to have their sights set on their baby girl for reasons that are unclear. Even when the front desk clerk or local police arrive to investigate, things aren’t what they seem, and before long it becomes clear that the night will never leave until both husband and wife confess shameful incidents from their past, one of which has moral implications I’m not sure I can stand behind, even in a horror-movie setting.

It’s clear that director Ahari (Generations) is determined to make a different type of horror movie, one that doesn’t use conventional supernatural elements or crazed killers or anything that an American film might use (outside of the haunted hotel motif). Co-written by Ahari and Milad Jarmooz, The Night is about memories that haunt us for years after the incident being remembered, somehow manifesting themselves as a physical threat, perhaps conjured by the strange matching symbols the couple recently had tattooed on their arms.

Truth be told, The Night is more about sustained creepiness than actual big scares, and I’m all in favor of atmosphere over jumping out of my seat. The hotel is the real star of the film (I assume it’s a location, rather than a built set), with its lobby and corridors that somehow manage to be both homey and ominous. I’m not sure there’s much of a payoff here, which is a shame because the film is paced as if it’s building to something that never really happens, aside from a couple of fairly tame confessions that are meant to seem explosive when they’re actually revelations that are highly forgivable. If the film is meant to be a metaphor for the things that grow between couples and threaten to tear them apart, I suppose I could be more forgiving. I just wish there had been a more powerful and substantive note to end on.

The film opens January 29 in select theaters, on digital platforms, and on VOD.

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