[su_dropcap size=”5″]T[/su_dropcap]he Night wasn’t made with the foresight of what the world would look like in 2020, but it certainly feels that way. This ugly, tempestuous year has given us all a kinship with the protagonists of the film: We’re all bricked into our homes, islanded by our fears and anxieties in a long night that never seems to end. This imbues The Night more impact and an extra layer of dread. We no longer need to look to the movies for perspective on the deep darkness. 2020 has already shown us.
As the film begins, we meet a collective of young Iranian-American couples. They drink and joke and chatter about the stuff that all newly married people stress over: The kids they have, the kids they might eventually have, worries with work, and whatever else might come next for their families. Babak (Shahab Hosseini) imbibes a bit too much, and seems poised to spill a dark secret. That’s the cue for his wife Neda (Niousha Jafarian) to collect their infant daughter and usher her family out the door.
Babak insists on driving home, even though he is heavily sauced. They wind along unknown streets, and it’s not long before the family becomes hopelessly lost. With a fussy baby and a husband who’s too proud to admit he’s driving crosseyed, Neda runs out of patience and insists they check into the nearest hotel. Babak grumbles, but relents.
They soon stagger into the Hotel Normandie, which seems like a good enough place to collapse into bed. The old guy at the front desk must’ve trained at the Bates Motel: He’s cheerful and accommodating, in a skin-crawling kinda way, of course. At this point, the family is too exhausted too care. They lug their bags to a room and try to settle in for the night.
Unfortunately, the Hotel Normandie has other ideas. Much like Stanley Kubrick’s vision of the Hotel Overlook in The Shining, the Normandie seems to be a living, malevolent creature. It torments the couple, taunting them with the very secrets they’ve been trying to hide from each other. The more Babak and Neda try to escape, the more the hotel seems to tighten its grip on them. As the night progresses, their terror only increases.
If that description makes The Night sound like a riff on a whole mess of horror classics, guess what? ‘Tis exactly that, my precious readers. I’ve already alluded to Kubrick and Hitchcock, a fact that makes me mustache-twiddling proud. Astute viewers will also spot the influence of Rod Serling and John Carpenter throughout the film. (Side note: It’s remarkable how often filmmakers quote The Twilight Zone.)
Many modern horror flicks have drowned in their own cleverness, but The Night somehow dodges that gurgling quicksand. Kourosh Ahari, who co-writes and directs, builds Babak and Neda as real people with real flaws. Where similar movies might force us to believe it when smart characters suddenly start acting stupid–I saw half a dozen movies like that in 2019 alone–these people consistently act the way actual humans might. This makes Babak and Neda the kind of characters you keep rooting for, and it gives The Night the oomph to stay compelling all the way through.
It also doesn’t hurt that Ahari gives us a gorgeous film to watch. As our family stumbles through the frightening maze of the hotel, brilliant blues and reds flood in from outside. Ahari also uses the growing darkness to great effect. The horror genre is loaded with movies that look and feel cheap, but The Night ain’t one of them.
A note of personal disclosure: I became a parent just over 11 months ago. Our little boy is adorable, and I might be just a smidge overprotective of him. Babak and Neda have a daughter who’s roughly his age, and she is also subjected to the terror of the hotel. The struggle of these new parents to keep their daughter safe and sound stressed the holy hell out of me. One scene in particular had me downright flummoxed. TL;DR: For new parents, The Night might just reach a whole new level of scary.
To sum all that up: The Night represents the best kind of horror movie. It’s thoughtful, patient, and unsettling. We see people trapped by their fear, just as we’ve spent the last year surrounded by our own. I have no doubt that COVID will spawn a million movies and permanently alter pop culture. Before all that comes our way, here’s a movie that captures the zeitgeist without even really trying.
105 min. (NYR)