The Farsii horror film The Night seems to invite ready comparisons to the Mike-Hafstrom-directed Steven King adaptation, 1408, not only for their similar premises and structures, but also for a similarly executed protracted time gimmick.
Director Kourosh Ahari’s film takes the exploitable form of a deluge of unexplained supernatural phenomena — localized entirely within the hallowed halls of a spooky hotel — pushing beleaguered protagonists toward the limits of their sanity, and the single night of terror is made to feel cruelly everlasting through an absorbing approach of repetition and oblique continuity. Sadly, unlike the King’s underrated adaptation from the mid-2000s, The Night lacks the scope and ambition to make its one-night horror feel larger than the limits of its premise.
The Night begins with some promise: our central couple, Babak and Neda Naderi (Shahab Hosseini and Niousha Noor), are on their way home from a house party — their already shaky marriage being tested by a particularly stressful night. The pair is cast in familiar tropes, such as strained opposites. He, the mulish, emotionally cloistered husband and she, the passive-aggressive, overbearing wife, and they both seem to target each other’s nerves with every comment and action on their long, late-night drive to their sullen marital home. After a series of unexplained phenomena obstruct their wary drive home with their infant daughter in tow (more on that in a minute), they check into a hotel, at which point the film fully transitions into horror territory after the uncomfortably straight, lengthy and tonally clashing Scenes from a Marriage-eque prologue.
The initial promise of the prologue continues into this hotel setting, which highlights director Ahari’s attention to set design. The seemingly deserted Hotel Normadie immediately gives off a sinister atmosphere, like many high-end boutique hotels do, but through the film’s moody lighting and harrowing use of silence, The Night begins to absorb the audience into its machinations. Off-put by their strange experiences yet tired, the Naderi family rents their suite from the menacing and mysterious concierge (George Maquire), and this becomes the turning point for the film.
It is not only the point in the narrative when the Naderis are bombarded by bizarre and creepy supernatural events, but it’s also when the film begins to lose all of its initial intrigue. Frustratingly, these spooky happenings have no consistency and thus feel more confusing and cheap than scary and earned. Unexplained noises; apparitions of children, black cats and mysterious, black-hooded figures; sporadic bleeding; physical disorientations; doppelgangers; hallucinations — it feels as though the filmmakers simply threw in everything that they classified as “creepy” at the wall in the hopes that some of them would stick.
While Ahari’s direction in these moments of tension is perfunctory but serviceable, none of the scares feel organic. Barring giving up the ghost and laying out what it all means, the wide, disparate variations of horror ideas presented in The Night make them feel like empty signifiers.
As would be expected with a prologue that centers on marital strife, the source of these supernatural occurrences seems to stem from the Naderis’ dysfunction and the skeletons in their respective closets that they have been harboring (Sidenote: there are not literal skeletons in any of the hotel closets, but I would not have put it past this film to throw some into the pot as well.)
How their marital demons become so literal and localized in this upscale hotel is never explainedThe film is more than likely a half-baked and too-literal metaphor for the crushing, elongated terror of sheltering a destructive secret from one’s spouse, but in execution, this telegraphing feels undemanding of its audience. (A cursed couples’ tattoo is briefly hinted at but then dropped rather quickly, and then, at one point — just as the couple has been tortured for what feels like hours to them (and us) — the perceptive Neda just blurts out they need to confess their secrets in order for all of whatever is happening to stop.
The Night commands itself with undeserved mystique and confidence for such a shallow premise that is buttressed by surface-level horror fodder. While it feels effectively creepy and discomforting due to the notable design and performances, it nevertheless settles into hollow moralizing and predictable scares over a prolonged third act of supposed revelations that seems to just drag on.