Producers: Larry Greenberg, Lucas Jarach and Eric Brenner   Director: Neil LaBute   Screenplay: Neil LaBute   Cast: Maggie Q, Kat Foster, Travis Hammer, Gia Crovatin, Brenda Meaney, Ito Aghayere, Kirstin Leigh, Highdee Kuan, Keilyn Durrel Jones, Rosni Shukla, Ray Siegle, Philip Burke, Laith Wallschleger, James Carpinello, Ray Nicholson, Geoff Pierson, William Roth, Treisa Gary, Christopher Corbin and Jack Mikesell    Distributor: Quiver Distribution

Grade: C-

Since his first film “In the Company of Men” (1997) through his most recent ones, like last year’s “House of Darkness”—as well as in his plays—Neil LaBute’s theme has almost always been what he portrays as an eternal war between men and women; it’s no wonder that he’s often been called a misogynist.  But generally he’s dealt with the subject in ways that were provocative but clever, marked by cutting dialogue and theatrical panache. Never has he presented his dark vision of gender conflict so bluntly and brutally (at least in physical terms—elsewhere the psychological pain has been more piercing) than in this nasty tale.  Or so ineptly—“Fear the Night” is a mediocre home-invasion thriller, more revolting than frightening and sadly lacking in all the major categories–conception, writing, direction and acting.

The premise is absurdly simple.  A group of women congregate at an isolated ranch for a bachelorette party.  They’re attacked by a bunch of thuggish men who begin their assault by killing a few of them and then demanding entry, promising to let the survivors go if they don’t cause them trouble.  The women refuse and mount what defense they can under the leadership of an ex-soldier suffering from PTSD and in recovery for alcohol abuse, but with her fighting skills intact.  Mayhem ensues. 

LaBute has added details intended to flesh out this meager narrative.  The two sisters—vet Tess (Maggie Q) and censorius Beth (Kat Foster)—who are throwing the party at their parents’ desert house for their sibling Rose (Highdee Kuan) are estranged and constantly bickering.  And the men aren’t there without cause. Though their leader Perry (Travis Hammer) was humiliated by Tess during an encounter at a store on the way to the reach, the goal isn’t mere revenge: they’re searching for a stash of money they believe is hidden in the house, the profits from a drug lab two equally sleazy fellows have been running nearby.  And they think that the women know where the cash is.

Until a coda with a clueless sheriff (Geoff Pierson) and a sharp lawyer (Treisa Gary) that serves to reinforce basic the theme of men versus women, as if that were necessary, “Fear the Night” follows the cat-and-mouse struggle between Perry (who for some reason favors a bow-and-arrow, with which he kills a few of the party, including Rose and the male chef/stripper, Rosni Shukla, Beth had hired) and Tess, who returns to battle mode and reciprocates as she tries to figure out a way to get a message to the authorities (naturally, the cell phones are out of service range) and secure some weapons from a shed out back.  As a result of all the maneuvering, a few more people die on both sides, the women are threatened with rape and death, and Tess ultimately confronts Perry one-on-one in a final confrontation.

LaBute indulges in some pretty revolting sexual taunting and gory killings, but the most notable aspect of the picture is the utter stupidity of Perry and his redneck band, whose growling menace is matched only by their ineptitude and inclination to fall for the women’s seductive traps.  One might also take it as a sign of progress that the only black member of the party (Ito Aghayere) is not the first victim, though honestly the cliché was already antique when “The Blackening” employed it as a plot device.  

Still, the movie might have worked as a rote shocker were LaBute’s dialogue more biting and the performances better.  Maggie Q certainly manages the considerable physical demands of her part, but her line delivery is flat.  She’s positively sterling, though, beside Foster, whose petulance comes across as shrill, and Hammer, whose attempts to be frightening fail miserably.  Many of the others seem stiff and amateurish, but probably shouldn’t be blamed overmuch, since LaBute’s clumsy direction does them no favors.  None of the behind-the-camera contributions—Megan Elizabeth Bell’s production design, Rogier Stoffers’ cinematography, Vincent E. Welch’s editing, Adam Bosarge’s music score—is good enough to elevate things beyond mediocrity.  And the decision to use intertitles to chart the passage of time through the night dissipates the buildup of tension rather than enhancing it; there are so many of them that you begin to wonder whether they’re just a means of expanding things to feature length.

Neil LaBute has done some stunning work in the past.  But his recent films, including this one, have been, even at their best, disappointing; and it’s certainly true that his observations about the gender wars have grown rather repetitive.