Even before hitting a single screen The Night has been making history. The film, directed by Kourosh Ahari, is the first U.S. produced movie to be granted a theatrical release license in Iran since the revolution. It’s also a great film to pave the way, as Ahari’s sophomore project is a masterful example of creating eerie tension. Beginning at a dinner party, The Night follows Iranian couple, Babak (Shahab Hosseini) and Neda (Niousha Noor), as they drive home with their infant daughter. After a near-miss, the exhausted couple decide to pull into a hotel for the night and quickly check into Hotel Normandie. The decision proves to be one they’ll soon come to regret however, as weird events start to happen. As time distorts and apparitions manifest, the young family find themselves fighting an unknown malevolent force, one that will stop at nothing to uncover the skeletons lurking in the couple’s past.
Similar stories may have been told over the years, but by shifting the story to a hotel setting somehow gives it a new lease on life. It’s important to note that the scares don’t come from the hotel’s appearance itself, it’s not the typical swooping Gothic mansion hidden in the stormy woods. It’s just a standard hotel located in the city and it looks like a place that most of us would stay in without a second thought. This is what makes it so insidiously creepy; Ahari twists a real-world location and alters the audience’s perception of what can be frightening. Interestingly, the actual filming location is a hotel that is rumoured to be haunted and so maybe there is something supernatural embedded in the film that is helping create this heavy air of dread.
Ahari continues to make the mundane unsettling by placing the simple task of getting a baby to sleep through the night at the centre of the story. Parents with young children will instantly identify with the task of getting a little one to bed, and will find some elements of the film particularly hard to cope with. The sleep deprivation that ensues when being made to stay up at night against your will is replicated wonderfully on screen, with Ahari generating that weird “out of time” sensation that creeps in as the night seems to become never-ending. As someone who currently has to get up occasionally in the night to check on a little one, I can confirm that The Night definitely sticks with you after watching and makes for some interesting bedroom night visits.
Unflinching in its intensity, The Night keeps the viewer firmly rooted to the edge of their seat. A combination of cunning camerawork and clever edits have the tension bubbling from the opening moments. Ahari does an exceptional job at creating this tension and a sense of unease from practically nothing. This is a film that takes its time getting to the more conventional scares and yet the lead up is almost unbearable. A sequence as simple as getting up to comfort a restless baby is shrouded in creepy affectations and will have you reaching for the cushion. By building this uncomfortable atmosphere from the start, Ahari layers his film with varying shades of strange and scary, and the anxiety induced slowly intensifies. His hard work pays off as by the time spooky things actually start to occur, by which point the viewer is already in a state of distress.
Accompanying Ahari’s deviously put together visuals is a nerve-shredding score. The soundscape reflects the dead of night setting of the bulk of the story, remaining subdued and quiet for the most part. Every now and then though, a sudden set of strings screech out and pierce the heart with their unexpected timing. These instances aren’t just used in the common horror way of reinforcing a cheap jump-scare, here they highlight the emotional and mental state of our lead, Babak. As his mind begins to unravel, the score gets more disjointed and frenetic, and the strings take on a life of their own.
An interesting story played out in a relatable setting, The Night has a lot of clever ideas to work with. A film about secrets and their power to destroy those that keep them; Ahari offers a cerebral psychological horror that keeps the viewer guessing. Even the ending is left to audience interpretation and immediately encourages a repeat viewing to uncover elements that may have been missed the first time around. By leaning into a vague conclusion Ahari also allows the air of mystery that he has crafted to remain. The bubble of fear is often popped during a horror film’s finale as it shows too much of it’s hand, but here, by tightening the reins, Ahari allows that feeling to persevere.
Shot in a Los Angeles hotel that itself is rumoured to be haunted, The Night is the truest definition of a nail-biter. Ahari squeezes every last morsel of fear he can to create a film that is rich in tension, anxiety and eerie things that go bump in the night. A nerve-shredding, nail-biting, anxiety inducing nightmare, The Night is a masterclass in fear-building and easily one of the scariest films of the year so far.
The Night is available to buy on Digital HD now.
This review first appeared on THN.