Eli Horowitz’s Gone in the Night begins with a wide-eyed and fidgety Winona Ryder as Kath drives with her younger and very excitable boyfriend Max (John Gallagher Jr.) to a secluded cabin for the weekend. The winding roads and intimidating forest combined with the naive city-dwellers seem like the recipe for a film we’ve seen a thousand times, but that’s not the story Horowitz wants to tell. As Kath and Max pull up to the cabin, it becomes clear that it’s double-booked when they’re greeted by Al (Owen Teague), a menacing and disdainful figure who makes it clear they’re not welcome until his partner Greta (Brianne Tju) joins them on the porch and says they can stay the night.
Greta and Al are the clichéd Gen Z couple, signalled to us heavy-handedly by Greta proclaiming that they’re not ‘together’ in that ““capitalist, the consumerist, heteronormative, cis bullshit way”” to an eyebrow raise from Kath. A board game played by the two couples later in the evening starts to get a bit too swinger-y for Ryder’s uptight Gen X-er, so she retires to bed. When she wakes in the morning, the cabin is empty. She walks to the forest to find Al crying; he then explains that Max and Greta hooked up with each other and then disappeared.
Back in the city, Kath begins searching for answers about what happened that night but only after being convinced by her coworker. Her motivation feels weak, and it seems either she doesn’t care or is scared of finding the answer, but this isn’t correctly laid out. It’s also unclear whether her character is playing the scorned lover or the justice-seeking detective, but she is, above everything, confused and utterly innocent of what’s going on. Ryder is the central gravity of the film and pulls this off with ease, as she always has the power to hold the audience and carry us with her, which the film would suffer without.
She contacts the cabin owner Nicholas (a captivatingly charismatic Dermot Mulroney), and the two become a charming detective duo. Ryder and Mulroney have such great chemistry that it starts to feel as if there’s a strange rom-com lurking beneath the surface of this mystery thriller. Their scenes are light and comfortable and leave you rooting for them to be together. The charisma makes the mystery almost a side plot until a particular reveal in the final act destabilizes this tone.
As they follow the clues, each scene brings new information. The narrative slides back and forth in time, and the mystery unravels satisfyingly with even, if not a bit slow, pacing. Despite the expository flashbacks, we’re kept at arm’s length and in the dark about what really happened to Max until the finale.
Gone in the Night could be a thriller, a dark rom-com, or sci-fi, but none of those elements feel strong enough to call the film genre-bending. It also doesn’t fully commit to the theme of aging that it loudly proposes. Different ages and generations represented in the characters make up a varied landscape of attitudes, but they land as shallow cliches that say nothing interesting. There’s definitely a story that could be told relating to the film’s vague intimations about the yearning for one’s lost youth, the fear of ageing and generational differences but the focus on the mystery about the most unlikeable character, Max, drags it down.
While Gone in the Night is a satisfying thriller with twists that would intrigue any viewer, it would have had a much more satisfying payoff if its ideas were adequately developed and more intelligently scrutinized. But like ever, Winona Ryder can do no wrong.
Gone in the Night is out on Digital and On Demand now
by Madeleine Sinclair
Madeleine (she/her) is a film student at the University of Winchester currently working on a dissertation on women killers in giallo films. She’s a big horror fan (the tackier the better) and also loves sci-fi and fantasy. Right now, she thinks her favourite films are Pan’s Labyrinth, The Wicker Man and Deep Red but she is also very indecisive. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @madeleinia and Letterboxd here.
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