Hotel horror is a well established subgenre in fear-fare cinema, and with classics such as The Shining (1980) and Psycho (1960) leading the pack, followed by worthy entries and a share of also-rans and outright bombs, it isn’t easy to put an original spin on new films in that category. Director Kourosh Ahari tries to do just that with The Night, and although many tried and true tropes are present, he serves up enough atmosphere and fine performances to make his film well worth a watch.
The Night focuses on Babak Naderi (Shahab Hosseini) and his wife Neda (Niousha Noor), who have moved from their native Iran to the United States. After leaving a small dinner party with friends and showing off their brand new tattoos randomly chosen out of their tattoo artist’s book — one of the early red flags for this ill-fated couple — they leave with their baby girl, with a stubborn Babak insisting on driving even though he had too much to drink.
The couple, who obviously have a great deal of tension between each other, finally stop at the Hotel Normandie to spend the night. Its welcoming receptionist (George Maguire) later features in one of the film’s most disturbing scenes, as Babak and Neda are harassed by supernatural forces and forced to face past decisions which are now coming back to haunt each of them — and their daughter is a pawn in the eerie proceedings, as well.
The Night has absolute nods to The Shining, along with several other horror cinema offerings (some of which would go into spoiler territory if mentioned here), but one of its unique directions is to put an immigrant couple into a classic American style of hotel, trying a new approach to strangers-in-a-strange-land fright fare. Hosseini and Noor are both terrific as a husband and wife at odds, who have kept dark secrets from one another, and they escalate the tension surrounding their characters superbly. Along with Maguire, Michael Graham gives a gripping supporting turn as a skeptical police officer who finds the Naederis’ reports of being harassed and possibly haunted in a hotel in which they are supposedly the only guests that night a bit far fetched.
Ahari, who cowrote the screenplay with Milad Jarmooz, has created a gripping chiller that works because of its unsettling, dread-ridden atmosphere and its solid performances. Viewers hoping for big shocks, jump scares, and gruesome set pieces are bound to go away disappointed at the lack of those elements, but viewers who prefer psychological horror should reap rewards. Although The Night doesn’t hold a great deal of surprises for seasoned horror fans — many viewers will figure out who is doing the haunting and why long before any third-act reveals, and although elements of that final act are open to interpretation, my personal theory is one that has been visited in films and television dealing with the fantastic many times over the decades — Ahari’s confident job at the helm results in a discomfiting experience that lingers long after seeing the film.
The Night, from IFC Midnight, will be available in select theaters and on VOD and digital from January 29, 2021.