Hotels are a natural setting for horror movies. When you go to one, you're in an unfamiliar environment, surrounded by people you don't know, and subject to all kinds of noises in the middle of the night, courtesy of whomever is in the room next to you. The Night flips that idea on its ear, imagining a hotel where there are only three guests – a man, a woman, and their baby. While the sole other person around is a creepy night manager, there's undoubtedly another something lurking, as our protagonists discover the hard way.
Babak (Shahab Hosseini) and Neda (Niousha Noor) are an Iranian couple newly living in the United States. After a long evening visiting friends, they become lost in Los Angeles and decide to pull into a hotel for the night so their infant can sleep. No sooner do they settle into their room than strange occurrences begin happening. A little boy keeps knocking on the door and then disappearing down a hallway, almost as if he was never there in the first place. Babak also has, shall we say, a problem identifying Neda. I won't go beyond that, except to say that there are tensions within the couple's marriage, and an issue from their past seems to be fueling whatever paranormal entity is inside the hotel.
It's hard to talk about The Night without giving anything away. You'll just have to trust me that enough happens to sustain your interest. Director/co-writer Kourosh Ahari takes a slow-burn approach to the story. Early scenes build an atmosphere of unease, as Babek and Neda come to the realization that the hotel is not an ordinary place. By the middle of the film, it becomes clear that they're being specifically targeted by a force that won't let them leave the building, no matter how hard they try. Then, in the final half hour, the true horror of the situation reveals itself.
There's a nice union of ambiance and subtext in the picture. Horror comes from recognizing how the spooky goings-on reflect on the relationship between the two central characters. They start off with slightly more intense than normal marital bickering, which gives way to conflict with a darker edge. At times, Babek and Neda are torn apart, whereas at others they must try to put the tension aside and work collaboratively. In that sense, The Night is a shrewd allegory for the “we're in this boat together” nature of marriage. Hosseini and Noor make that register powerfully with their strong performances.
Viewers wanting a pinpointed explanation for what's happening in the hotel and how it's happening may be slightly disappointed. The Night expects us to accept its premise at face value. You really don't get any answers to key questions, like why the building is empty, or whether Babek and Neda ended up there by chance or were somehow lured to it. The film could have driven home its themes even harder by filling in a couple of those blanks.
Taken at its own level, though, The Night still succeeds in providing intelligent chills. The movie's last shot is particularly eerie, ensuring that you continue to think about this story after it's over.
out of four
The Night is unrated, but contains some language and violence. The running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes.