Welcome to Fistful of Features, a celebration of film preservation through physical media and the discussion of cinematic treasures to maintain their relevance in the cultural lexicon. Today we’ll be discussing an independent horror film from the festival circuit that marks the directorial debut of Kourosh Ahori and is making its way to Blu-ray from Scream Factory and IFC Midnight: The Night.
“They hear the truth, morning comes.” – displaced man
The setup for The Night is essentially rudimentary within context of the emotional truth that filmmaker Karoush Ahori is building his story around. It makes sense why Ahori and co-writer Milan Jarmooz had it in the script, as it provided a little character background and gets the main characters from point A to point B, but if they had decided to omit the scene while filming and started at point B, this film would have been all the better for it. Shahab Hosseini, who some will recognize from the critically acclaimed A Separation, plays Babak, who is seen nursing a tooth ache with one-to-many drinks at a social gathering while his concerned wife, Neda (Niousha Jafarion), is saving face with friends while simultaneously tending to their restless one-year-old daughter. This leads to resentment. When leaving the party, the navigation system in their car goes haywire and Babak is too disoriented to get them home safely, despite only being 30 minutes away. This takes us to point B, which is a dim hotel in downtown Los Angeles where the rest of the film unfolds. This film would have lost nothing if we see them arrive at the hotel in the opening scene. All of the character building, atmosphere, and psychological framework is all laid out splendidly within this building, and the more claustrophobic this low budget film is, the better it works at getting under your skin.
The fact that Ahori’s lack of budget for visual effects forced him to be creative in how to spin this supernatural tale (which will be overtly familiar to many seasoned fans of the genre), is what saves this film from completely being a formulaic cliche that’s treaded similar ground. Luckily there was a talented crew to aid him on his filmmaking journey which resulted in a memorable genre debut. DP Maz Makhani has mostly worked on music videos, such as Rob Zombie’s “Feel So Numb,” and here he uses jarring camera angles to supplement visual effects. For example, production designer Jennifer Dengham created an intimate set piece with a baby carriage in a boiler room and there’s a red tint to the lighting that gives off a hypnagogic effect. This will likely conjure memories of C.J. Strawn’s amazing set design on the A Nightmare On Elm Street series, though don’t expect this film to go down that road, it doesn’t have the budget or the ambition. Couple that with Gakhrara’s echoing sound design and unobtrusive film score which guide Makhani’s camera movements to sway in a state of hypnosis, and we, through the eyes of this couple, are cerebrally paralyzed inside of this hotel.
What The Night lacks in big scares or spectacle, it more than makes up for with defying haunted house, or in this case hotel, narrative expectations. It doesn’t go for big swings like The Shining and doesn’t unnerve like 1408, but whenever this film feels like it’s going down a familiar road, it’s constantly making sharp turns and giving the viewer a sense of disorientation, much like the family we’re following. There’s a scene where a police officer shows up at their door after they file a noise complaint and isn’t buying their story for a minute. We might expect the officer to become aggressively hostile, but then he asks to hold their child and then he vanishes. None of these surprising turns would be a problem if they had a bigger payoff or led to a grander reveal, but when we get to the reveal of why this hotel is essentially holding this couple hostage, it makes the journey to get there seem lackluster at best. It was exciting to see this filmmaker play with Djinn mythology with the frequent black cat imagery, though he never does much with it other than suggest. The Night could’ve learned a thing or two from the enjoyably spooky Under the Shadow we got five years ago. Ahori does have a visual style and imaginative voice that will be worth keeping an eye on. Perhaps his next film will live up to the potential of its premise.
The Night Bonus Features
- Audio Descriptive Track
Available on Blu-ray and DVD from Shout! Factory July 13th, 2021.