The Night

★★★

I reckon I’d never seen an Iranian horror movie prior to peeping “The Night” (available on VOD and in select theaters beginning Friday, Jan. 29). I always meant to see “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night,” but never got around to it.

Baback (Shahab Hosseini) and Neda (Niousha Noor) are a married Iranian couple living with their baby daughter Shabnam (Leah Oganyan) in the United States. After visiting friends for the evening, Baback insists that he must drive them home despite being drunk because Neda’s license is suspended. As Baback’s driving worsens placing the family in a progressively precarious position, Neda demands that they stop and get a hotel room for the night so he can sleep it off. Baback complies.

Upon arrival they encounter a strange hotel receptionist (George Maguire). He rents them a suite – supposedly the only unoccupied room. The receptionist also informs them that the hotel’s front door is locked from the inside and that they must be buzzed out to exit. No sooner do Baback, Neda and Shabnam get settled in the suite and begin sleeping that strange noises echo out through the night and disturbances arise. There’s a persistent knocking at their door from a young boy (Amir Ali Hosseini) looking for his mother, but when they answer the door there’s no one there. The hotel has a grip on the family and they’re trapped within its confines unless Baback and Neda confess secrets they’ve kept from one another.

I thought highly of Hosseini and Noor’s performances even if I didn’t particularly care for their characters. (Baback’s a bit of a boor and Neda’s sort of a nag.)  Hosseini looks like a cross between Kal Penn and Mark Duplass and excels at playing the gray areas of the moral spectrum. Noor’s lovely and expertly emotes fear. I suspect there are cultural differences at play, but I didn’t dig the way these characters interacted with one another. Then again relationships in horror movies are rarely full of love and light.

“The Night” is a horror movie that’s not horrifying, but it’s often creepy. This is cinema of agitation and irritation. Writer/director Kourosh Ahari and his co-screenwriter Milad Jarmooz do a nice job of establishing dread, but their jolts often grow repetitive and are stretched to their absolute limits. The movie’s an hour and 45 minutes – it would’ve played better at an hour and a half. Neda’s secret will likely offend folks on either side of the political aisle for divergent reasons. The secret itself didn’t bother me, but the punishment doled out to her as a result did.

I ultimately liked more about “The Night” than I didn’t. I certainly think it’s wonderful that it’s the first U.S./Iran co-production to receive a license for release in Iran since the revolution. Additionally, it’s cool that the predominance of the cast and crew (including department heads) is comprised of Iranian immigrants or U.S.-born Iranian-Americans. Even when art doesn’t click on all cylinders it has the power to bring people from disparate backgrounds together. Also, the baby’s awfully adorable as numerous characters assert … so there’s that.

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