The first US-produced film to receive distribution in Iran in four decades, Kourosh Ahari’s confined horror The Night is a strong and skillful directorial debut that tackles the hidden secrets that haunt the marriage of a young couple.
After an evening spent with friends, Babek (Shabab Hossein) and Neda (Niousha Jafarian) and their infant daughter are forced to stop at a hotel when Babek’s drunken driving becomes too dangerous for them to continute. Hotel Normandie—an impressively lit building that combines neon lighting with dated fixings and features—initially provides them with a safe haven to get some much needed sleep, but when strange knocks on their bedroom disrupt the peace, they are quickly confronted with a presence that refuses to let them rest.
The success of The Night hinges on the performances of the two leads and their chemistry; with the only other significant characters given any amount of performance time only appearing in the opening act, Hossein and Jafarian carry the film as two new-ish parents, adapting again to each other and this new country. There is an unease between them that seeps into even their most banal interactions: Babek has been in the US longer than Neda, and that combined with the stress of a young child has lead to a widening distance between them that neither quite know how to cross.
In an attempt to signal that they are still committed to making the marriage work, they get matching tattoos: two symbols that fit together that were picked out at random from the tattooist’s work book. Unknown to them, these tattoos are hinted at having some supernatural element when they are recognised by a homeless man outside the hotel who reacts in shock, grabbing at Neda when he sees the ink. To the film’s detriment, this element of the supernatural is never full expanded on or ever mentioned again.
As the knocks at their door get more disruptive, they move slowly through the hotel searching for solitude. Babek hands over their baby to Neda only to discover that the woman he thought was his wife is someone else entirely when the real Neda returns to the room and asks where their child is. It is a credit to the script that the increasing tension isn’t overly indicated or signalled, instead it builds slowly through each loud knock or unnerving encounter.
There are places where the film does overextend itself into a range of horror tropes without ever expanding on them: the aforementioned tattoo, a creepy hotel manager who speaks in an overly affected way while sharing stories of all the various horrific events he’s been at, the lobby with tinny music on repeat that never changes.
The Night falls into the category of an urbanite horror—akin to something like Candyman—in that it uses the urban landscape to amplify the terror of the protagonists. They are trapped in this liminal space where the sky is never truly dark, the streetlights providing a cold glow in the night sky, while the streets that would usually be full of people are deserted. The idea that people are so close but ultimately unable to reach them or provide help in anyway is almost as discomforting as being completely alone in an isolated landscape.
Despite the sightly tropey nature of some of the film, The Night is an engaging horror that has the ability to genuinely unnerve and discomfort as the winding corridors of the Hotel Normandie holds many secrets.
The Night is available on VOD in select cinemas and VOD from January 29th
by Rose Dymock
Rose is a film critic , who graduated from the University of Liverpool with an MRes in Film Studies. She loves thrillers, Al Pacino, and multilingual cinema and she’s not entirely sure if she’s a millennial.