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The Night

by George Wolf

Come on, it’s been forty years, can’t we get a new haunted hotel flick without you screaming bloody redrum?

That’s fair, but what if the new take unveils a slow shower curtain reveal and turns to a golden oldie for creepy soundtrack effect?

Oh. Well then the film’s going to have to work even harder to avoid the dustbin of shameless Shining wannabees.

The Night does just that, and ultimately manages to find its own voice with a goosebump-inducing tale of a frantic family’s sleepless night away from home.

Babak (Shahab Hosseini) and Neda (Niousha Noor) are an Iranian couple living in the U.S. They have a new daughter, who is pretty well-behaved during their game night with some friends.

Neda’s not happy that Babak knocked back a few shots during the evening, so when the GPS starts acting crazy on the drive home and the baby is fussing, Neda suggests they find the nearest hotel and start fresh in the morning.

But from the moment the clerk at the Hotel Normandie (George Maguire – perfectly weird) greets Babak with tales of all the death he’s seen in his life, things ain’t right.

They get worse.

Director/co writer Kourosh Ahari proves adept at spooky atmospherics, with long, not-quite-Kubrick hallways around many turns and unsettling, not-exactly Serling paintings hanging about. Things go bump, voices carry and wandering souls appear, with Hosseini (The Salesman, A Separation) and Noor proving terrific vehicles for selling the scare.

Babek was hoping the booze would dull his toothache, but now he’s just exhausted from being kept awake by what he’s seeing…or just thinks he’s seeing. While Neda, increasingly desperate just to keep her child safe, begins to suspect the key to escaping may lie in revealing some long-held family secrets.

As a simple device with plenty of easy fright potential, the haunted house has served horror well for decades. But elevating it to a metaphor for something deeper is only as successful as the weakest pillar involved.

The Night shows strength all around, and by daybreak a pretty well-known blueprint builds to a satisfying reminder on the cost of deception.

Day 20: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

Writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour has made the world’s first Iranian vampire movie, and though she borrows liberally and lovingly from a wide array of inspirations, the film she’s crafted is undeniably, peculiarly her own.

Amirpour is blessed with a cinematographer in Lyle Vincent capable of translating her theme of loneliness in a dead end town, as well as the cultural influences and Eighties pop references, into a seamless, hypnotic, mesmerizingly lovely vision. The film is simply, hauntingly gorgeous.

Set in Bad Town, a city depleted of life – tidy yet nearly vacant – Girl haunts the shadowy, lonesome fringes of civilization. The image is highly stylized, with a hip quirkiness and stationary camera framings that noticeably mine Jarmusch’s early work. Indeed, Amirpour seems an avid fan of American indies of the Eighties and Nineties, as well as the films of endlessly imitated French New Wave filmmakers and Sergio Leone – so that’s a mish mash. But Amirpour effortlessly balances the homages and inspirations, the cultural nuances alive in Girl giving every scene a uniqueness that makes the whole effort surprising.

Amirpour develops a deliberate pace that makes the film feel longer, slower than is probably necessary. The time is spent with singular individuals – a prostitute (a world-wearied and magnificent Mozhan Marno), a drug addicted father (Marshall Manesh), a street urchin (Milad Eghbali), a pimp (Dominic Rains), and a rich girl (Rome Shadanloo). Two people weave in among these players – the handsome Arash (Arash Marandi), and a lonesome vampire (Sheila Vand).

Though these are character types more than characters outright, Amirpour and her actors don’t abandon them. Each has breath and dimensionality, their fate a question that piques sympathy.

Vand’s Girl is the constant question mark, and that – along with the eerie, sometimes playful beauty of Vincent’s camerawork – is what makes the film unshakably memorable. I promise the image of a vampire on a skateboard will stay with you.

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