Review: Things go bump and more in consistently terrifying ‘The Night’
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Deriving its visceral scares not from grisly imagery but rather psychological eeriness — like a knock on the door in the early morning hours or a disembodied whisper that raises the hairs on the back of your neck — director Kourosh Ahari’s consistently terrifying new feature “The Night” follows an Iranian couple wrestling with unresolved marital conflicts in the U.S.
Marking his debut in an American production, actor Shahab Hosseini (“A Separation,” “The Salesman”) plays obstinate husband and father Babak. As he drives home with his wife, Neda (Niousha Jafarian), and their infant daughter following an evening with friends, a pulsating toothache immobilizes him. Inexplicable occurrences soon lead them to check into an empty old hotel where supernatural torment ensues.
Inevitably, the chosen location and what transpires within its tenebrous confines calls back to the Overlook Hotel in Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” and, less evidently, to the recent British-Iranian film “Under the Shadow,” which specifically dealt with jinns — otherworldly entities in Islamic mythology. Yet Ahari finds his own narrative rhythm, though it feels sluggish in a final act that fluctuates from frantic to meditative.
How director of photography Maz Makhani’s camera swiftly glides through the dimly lit, elegant spaces also magnifies our trepidation. Noises coming from the roof, a child’s footsteps running down the hall or a cat’s piercing stares prevent Babak and Neda from landing at a logical explanation for the disturbances. And even once they’ve admitted nothing makes sense, they can’t pinpoint if the source is the hotel itself, the matching tattoos they recently got or a stalker targeting them.
While Ahari’s screenplay, written with Milad Jarmooz, demands certain leaps of trust given how long it chooses to conceal details and the ambivalence of its mechanics, one can’t help being mesmerized by the harrowing curveballs thrown at the plot. Handling both the shocking disbelief at their circumstances and the incessant bodily pain exasperating Babak, an impressive Hosseini turns in a strenuous, multilayered performance.
A goosebumps-inducing affair, “The Night” is at its most effectively unsettling when the focus is to evoke fear as opposed to when it physically shows what’s haunting the characters trapped in their respective secret tragedies. Their unseen demons spook harder.
In Farsi and English with English subtitles
Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes
Playing: Starts Jan. 29; Vineland Drive-in, City of Industry; and in limited release where theaters are open; also on VOD
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