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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.

Attention Must Be Paid

The Salesman (Forushande)

by George Wolf

It should surprise no one familiar with Asghar Farhadi that the filmmaker is a former playwright. In films such as About Ely, The Past and the Oscar-winning A Separation, Farhadi, as both writer and director, has shown sharp instincts for building quiet tension through insightful, deliberately paced dialog.

His latest, The Salesman, is no exception, as Farhadi returns to his stage roots in crafting a meaningful parallel between a classic American play and an Iranian couple whose marriage is frayed by a traumatic incident.

Emad (Shahab Hosseini), a high school teacher, and his wife Rana (Taraneh Etesami) are starring in a community theatre production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman when they are forced to flee their apartment building as it crumbles around them. After renting a new apartment from one of their co-stars in the play, a dangerous occurrence involving the previous tenant drives a wedge of guilt and anger between husband and wife.

While The Salesman may lean on contrivance a whisper more than usual, Farhadi again uses intimate conflicts to explore more universal themes of gender and class, and he again delivers a screenplay with minimal filler. Buoyed by resonant performances from the two leads, each line of dialog is carefully placed for maximum impact, while Farhadi weaves Miller’s work into the narrative for a poignant undercurrent of generational clash in a changing world.

Though the classic “attention must be paid” speech occurs relatively early in Death of a Salesman, Farhadi confidently builds his film toward a third act reflecting similar themes. All of us, no matter what may have occurred in the past, deserve basic human dignity.

Sadly ironic, then, that if The Salesman earns Farhadi his second Academy Award, he won’t be there to accept it. The Iranian filmmaker has said he won’t attend even if “exceptions were made” to recent immigration directives, and his work must stand as a testament to the increasingly shaky ground of our own foundations.