For many, the search for self is the hardest journey one can engage in. Maybe you don’t feel like you belong with your blood relations, maybe you don’t feel like you belong among the general public, heck, maybe you don’t feel like you belong in your own skin. The quest for self-identity can be arduous, making it the perfect starting off point for a horror story. Director Rich Ragsdale’s (The Curse of El Charro) latest feature film, The Long Night, mines such a feeling as the journey for self-identification leads to blood, death, and possible rebirth. Released on digital in February, The Long Night lands on shelves April 5th with a feature-length commentary track, three featurettes, and Ragsdale’s short film The Loop. While The Long Night possesses some interesting ideas and clever narrative structure, its reliance on atmospherics is ultimately reductive to the whole making it feel like the film would be stronger as a short rather than a feature.
After a lifetime of searching, Grace Covington (Scout Taylor-Compton) finds a lead on what happened to her parents decades ago. Invited to stay on the southern plantation of the man who claims to have found information, Grace and her boyfriend Jack (Nolan Gerard Funk) arrive only to find the place deserted. Soon after they unpack bags, things get weird before turning deadly as a group of wordless individuals in death cloaks and skull masks surround the property. Grace came for answers to her past, but it may mean a short-lived present and a terrible future.
Though much of The Long Night is either too ethereal or too undercooked to possess connection with the audience, there’re some really interesting ideas within the script and the execution of the narrative. The bulk of the film is simply Grace and Jack trying to survive a variety of assaults, both physical and metaphysical, while remaining in the house. Arriving to an empty home? Strange, but possible. Finding a snake in the house? Frightening, yet not wholly unexpected given what the audience is shown of the grounds. But when Grace is engaged in a psychic attack while Jack is trapped in the bathroom, the characters have the good sense to immediately try to leave with an hour still left to go. Not only does this imply a certain intelligence about Jack, but allows for the creepiness about the situation to really go full-tilt when the pair are unable to leave. Even when a new character, Jeff Fahey’s Wayne, appears, it’s not to offer information or explanation, but to increase the growing dread of their circumstance. This combined with the slow-moving attacks of the masked assailants only amplifies the uncertainty of what’s happening and why. That the film can still possess some kind of momentum with so little happening and so few characters with knowledge offering dialogue is impressive and to be commended. The issue is that The Long Night uses the same visual motifs so repetitiously that they start to lose meaning among the more tangible moments.
To establish that Grace and Jack are going on a long journey, Ragsdale employs several lengthier-than-expected drone shots of their car driving. It’s enough of an extended period that it feels like an homage to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) in the way that one begins to feel the journey with the characters and their growing isolation. This is both strong and interesting in how the audience can relate a bit to what Grace is going through in regarding her journey to find answers. Unique as this is, there comes a form of replication with the imagery around the title card. The title is displayed among a shot of trees overlaid on the same image with a slight mirroring effect implying infinity and this is used a few times in the film. There is always an implied connection to the forest, the skulls masks, and Grace, over and over and over. It’s not until some information is discovered about the death cult that any kind of connection is fully realized, but, by then, the imagery is so overdone that the audience finds themselves longing for anything real. Especially when scenes meant to provide explanation are delivered in such a way that there are more questions than answers because of their enigmatic delivery, the atmospherics become reductive to the whole. Which isn’t to suggest that there’s nothing interesting about the imagery or the illusions they make between ideas. The bloody birthing sequence and the celestial overlay is quite striking and does offer some tangible explanations and concepts. It’s just that the notions are offered so late into the thriller that the more cosmic notions feel tacked on. As singularly lit shots or ideas, there’s a lot that’s interesting in Ragsdale’s film, but little that feels original or unexplored as a whole.
If you’ve come to this home release review as a fan of the film, I do have some great news: the bonus materials. The first is the full 2019 short film The Loop. Though one can predict it from the jump, it’s still a chilling watch and, had I seen it prior to watching The Long Night, I might’ve found the right wavelength to appreciate the feature. Then there are three brief featurettes — “The Birthing,” “The Look,” and “The Score” — which are composite in construction, offering you a look at what they did for each of the concepts in the featurette before showing off the specific scene in the film the featurette references. To make clear, “The Birthing” is just under six minutes and offers a behind the scenes look at how the film achieved the birth sequence I mentioned earlier. In this featurette, no one is talking to the camera, so we just get to see the cast get in place, the special effects crew get prepped, and watch as they put the application within the scene together. Once complete, the featurette jumps to the scene in the film so you can watch the finalized version. The other two featurettes more or less follow the same path, though “The Score” does a bit more intercutting of the final scene with shots of the orchestra performing the music. One thing that you learn from the featurettes that’s kept far more broad in the film is that they shot on-location in South Carolina. The film never makes this clear, which creates an air of over-generalization from the narrative that simultaneously creates an opportunity for the audience to think that the concept of the “Southern Cult” is too derivative and overplayed. By not giving the film some roots, the final story often feels like a good idea that would be stronger with a shorter runtime to keep the audience from asking bigger questions. But if you want answers, watch the film with the feature-length commentary from Ragsdale. You might just get them.
All in all, despite the strength of duo Taylor-Compton and Funk leading the way, The Long Night isn’t as interesting in execution as it is on paper. A death cult with Lovecraftian abilities, a couple isolated in a strange place, murder and answers intertwined: what’s not to get excited about? Strangely, none of it really comes together in a way that satisfies any particular horror craving.
The Long Night Special Features:
- Director’s Commentary (1:31:03)
- Three (3) Behind the Scenes Featurettes
- The Birthing (5:44)
- The Look (6:00)
- The Score (6:41)
- The Loop Short Film (7:40)
- Trailer (2:05)
- Well Go USA Previews
Available on digital February 4th, 2022.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD April 5th, 2022.
For more information, head to the official Well Go USA The Long Night webpage.
Final Score: 2.5 out of 5.