The Night

Director: Kourosh Ahari
Screenplay: Kourosh Ahari & Milad Jarmooz
Stars: Shahab Hosseini (Babak Naderi), Niousha Noor (Neda Naderi), George Maguire (Hotel Receptionist), Michael Graham (Police Officer), Elester Latham (Displaced Man), Armin Amiri (Farhad), Steph Martinez (Sofia), Kathreen Khavari (Elahe), Gia Mora (Sara)
MPAA Rating: NR
Year of Release: 2020
Country: U.S. / Iran
The Night
The Night

The Night, the third film by Iranian-American writer/director Kourosh Ahari, is a solid piece of supernatural-psychological horror. It is not a terribly ambitious film, but what it does it does extremely well, and there is something intensely admirable about Ahari’s commitment to a simplicity of plot and location that allows him and co-screenwriter Milad Jarmooz to dig deep into the recesses of both his characters’ psyches and the genre itself. It is the kind of horror film that relies almost entirely on the filmmakers’ dexterity with familiar tactics, and The Night excels in this regard, drawing us into a subtly escalating sense of dread and paranoia as what appears to be a stressed, but otherwise normal evening devolves into a world unmoored from logic and reality.

The film’s open scenes introduce us to the protagonists, Babak and Neda (Shahab Hosseini and Niousha Noor), a young Iranian-American couple with a six-month-old baby who are visiting friends for an evening. They dine and drink and laugh, although the conversations give us the first glimpses into some of the fissures in their relationship. These become especially apparent when they leave, as Babak, who is drunk and overconfident, is determined to make the long drive home, an effort that is confounded by both his inebriated state and a strangely malfunctioning GPS that gets them lost in downtown Los Angeles. Finally giving up, they decide to spend the night at the off-the-beaten-path Hotel Normandie, and it is within this hotel’s walls that the rest of the story unfolds in a series of increasingly insidious events that challenge the borders between reality and dreams, past and present, waking and nightmares.

There are numerous hints early on that things are not right—the seemingly possessed GPS, a strange homeless man they meet outside the hotel (Elester Latham), the hotel’s receptionist (George Maguire), an elderly gent who seems transported from another era and who soon displays a decidedly weird lack of self-awareness in how inappropriate his conversation topics are. The hotel itself (a real-life Los Angeles landmark built in 1926) is old-world in its quaint beauty, but is also strangely dark and deserted and gives the sense of being a world unto itself (which Babak and Neda will soon learn it is). To give away much more might spoil the film’s best qualities, which are the consistently unnerving events the young couple experiences, which often hinges on the hotel’s apparent ability to toy with their perception and their sense of space and time. There is clearly something supernatural and insidious about the building, but Ahari keeps its intentions and its purposes deliberately vague.

Shahab Hosseini, who has played prominent roles in Asghar Narhadi’s A Separation (2011) and The Salesman (2016), is excellent as Babak, whose traditionally reinforced male ego and sense of self are tormented throughout the film by the hotel’s mysterious essence, his fractured relationship with his wife, and the realities of being someone of Middle Eastern descent trying to assimilate into American culture (interestingly, The Night is the first U.S.-based production to be distributed in Iran since 1979). Some of the film’s best moments use close-ups of Hosseini’s face as he tries with all his might to ignore some disquieting sound or ominous presence, as if he can will the horrors away with his desperate desire for some rest. Niousha Noor, who is probably best known her role in Alan Ball’s short-lived series Here and Now (2018), is equally good as Niousha, a frustrated wife and mother whose tensions with her husband form the bedrock of the horrors they will endure. Ahari structures the film around the increasingly unhinged nature of the couple’s experience, and he manages to wring a surprising amount of emotional pathos from them, giving us a film that doesn’t just make us tense up and jump, but rather feel for the protagonists as they must face down all the demons they have tried to hide within.

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Overall Rating: (3)

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