Directed by Kourosh Ahari (The Yellow Wallpaper, Generations) and written by Ahari and Milad Jarmooz (Maybe There, Numbness) The Night (2020) sees married Iranian couple, Babak (Played by Shahab Hosseini) and Neda (Niousha Noor) living in the US with their daughter, becoming trapped inside a hotel. In a night that seems to never end, insidious events force the couple to face the dark secrets that have come between them.
If it wasn’t obvious from the synopsis, the plot of this film is extremely simple and bare bones. This film does not feature a complex plot or scenarios. What this film is, however, is an extremely effective and well-crafted exercise in horror and tension. You can feel some of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining influence on this film. The film mainly takes place in a hotel where the characters are unable to escape. Most of the scares and tension is very slow building and relies on these unexplainable occurrences rather than over the top monsters or effects. It was a haunting story, but much more psychological, playing into the main characters’ worst fears, which I found extremely effective.
There were admittedly a decent amount of jump scares in the film, which can usually come across as a cheap scare tactic. In this film – for the most part – they work spectacularly. Part of that is due to an excellent build of tension upon the scare. The jump scare does not simply come out of nowhere, but through excellent directing from Ahari and writing from him and Jarmooz, they end up creating some truly shocking scenes. For instance, early on in the film Babak and Neda run over something on their way back from a dinner party. Later on – without spoilers – whatever they ran overcomes back in a scene I least expected it. On top of that disturbing and shocking revelation, we follow it up with another disturbing revelation.
That pattern continues throughout the film, planting subtle clues early on only to have the film (through the hauntings the character’s experience as well as through dialogue) continue to build on and expand what those clues meant. Even when Neda and Babak’s secrets start to become clearer to the audience, the film still leaves it up to us to piece together one of their secrets. There’s never that huge reveal scene at the end of the film where everything is explained, which I think is a mark of a well-written and planned out the script.
Both Shahab Hosseini (The Salesman, Darbareye Elly, Superstar) and Niousha Noor (“Here and Now,” Nargess, Jimmy Vestvood: Amerikan Hero) were spectacular in the film. They both really sold the fear and paranoia they were feeling. You really felt the animosity they had towards each other, but also the love they feel for their daughter. Even before the actual hauntings begin, you can feel the tension between these two characters, with the only thing holding them together is the love for their daughter. At face value, the characters aren’t the most interesting, but as their secrets begin to unravel, you realize there’s a lot more to their lives and to the time they’ve been apart than meets the eye. Credit also goes to George Maguire (Generations, The Pursuit of Happyness) as the hotel receptionist. I think his performance, however, was also heightened by the dialogue he was given. It was intentionally vague and disturbing, but in a way where his dialogue actually connected to the themes and story of the film.
I mentioned before, as a director, Kourosh Ahari is fantastic at scares and building tension. There were some also effectively composed sequences of one or more of the characters walking down or looking down a long empty corridor or even just one of our leads talking to or coming across a strange person or entity. I will say, however, a good amount of tension did deflate when the mystery was revealed, though I do think eventually in the climax there were a few surprises to still keep us invested and on edge. The ending, unfortunately, did feel like a bit of a cop-out and rather underwhelming. Still, Ahari did leave us with one final, disturbing image that elevated it. The cinematography from Maz Makhani I also thought was pretty good. There was some interesting use of color, say, behind a windowpane, or a character’s silhouette outlined in front of a window. There was also a great overhead sequence of a car driving along a road for a single take.
Finally, the score from Nima Fakhrara and sound design also stood out as highlights of the film. Akin to something like The Shining, but still absolutely standing on its own and not coming across in any way as a rip-off, there were a lot of harsh, drowning sounds and violins. In the lobby, there was nothing to be heard except this eerie song echoing in the background, which was extremely effective. There were admittedly a few overused troops, like the escalating violing stringing before a big scare was to come. Still, it was mostly superb.
Score: 4 out of 5 Stars
Great acting, amazing direction, an amazing score, memorable sound design, good cinematography, and a (mostly) gripping script come together to form a truly great exercise in horror, thrills, and tension that carries throughout most of the film. Kourosh Ahari has truly proven himself as a director here, and I cannot wait to see what else he can do.