Producers: Vasily Bernhardt, Daemon Hillin, Ryan R. Johnson and Martin Sprock Director: Rich Ragsdale Screenplay: Mark Young and Robert Sheppe Cast: Scout Taylor-Compton, Nolan Gerard Funk, Kevin Ragsdale, Deborah Kara Unger, Jeff Fahey and Frank Caldwell Distributor: Well Go USA Entertainment
The plot could be written on a mini-post-it note, but Rich Ragsdale’s horror movie has style to burn, which might be enough for some genre fans. For most viewers, though, “The Long Night” will come across as both familiar and silly.
Grace Covington (Scout Taylor-Compton) and her partner Jack Cabot (Nolan Gerard Funk) are thirty-somethings living in New York, happily but for Grace’s obsession with finding the parents she’s never known. They decide to travel to the south to investigate a tip about their whereabouts, eventually reaching a remote plantation house sounded by forest. The owner who’s invited them is missing, but they’re able to enter and make themselves at home.
Thus far, so good. The film builds a solid sense of suspense as cinematographer Pierluigi Malavasi follows the car from above winding through the woods and Sherri Chung’s score drones ominously. And the initial scenes at the plantation generate a note of foreboding, even if some of the details—like cell phone service disappearing—are the stuff of cliché.
Then the weirdness begins. The couple finds signs of demon-worship in the house and the surrounding woods, and finally are confronted by a group of robed figures wearing horned masks and wielding torches, lined up threateningly outside. A face-off with them seems inevitable.
But Ragsdale and scripters Mark Young and Robert Sheppe put that off with lots of time-filling incident. A cantankerous fellow named Wayne (Jeff Fahey), who says he’s a friend of the house’s absent owner, shows up demanding to know who the young interlopers are. He’s eventually forced to accept their warnings about the strange group menacing the place and, like such figures in so many horror movies, meets a horrible fate. A couple of the masked figures invade the house and assault Jack.
And then, since some explanation for all the goings-on is required, Grace and Jack find an old volume recounting an encounter between pilgrims and a snake-demon some four hundred years earlier, with a prophecy about the return of the malevolent being. (The pages look in remarkably good condition and though the text is in Latin, Jack can easily translate it because, as he airily puts it, he went to Catholic school!) And as will ultimately be revealed in a monologue by the leader of the robed figures (Deborah Kara Unger), this is the “long night,” the perfect convergence of equinox and planetary arrangement, for the return of the demon, and Grace has been lured to the estate to play an important role in the process.
One can’t miss allusions, both visual and narrative, to other, far better films in “The Long Night”—“The Shining,” “Rosemary’s Baby” and even “Alien” spring immediately to mind—and one can even see a reflection of Herne the Hunter from the 1980s TV series “Robin of Sherwood” in the robed cultists, but what really strikes one is that despite all the glitzy, hallucinatory inserts of writhing snakes and oddball rituals, this is one very slender plot, clumsily padded to fill feature running-time.
One does have to acknowledge the commitment of the cast to the nonsense—Taylor-Compton, in particular, throws herself headlong into the material (quite literally in the final ten minutes)—but it’s all pretty much for naught, because in the end the picture isn’t terribly scary, except perhaps for those who find a shot of a slithering snake cause for alarm. And technically the movie is pretty well done for this sort of thing, with Burns Burns’ production design joining Malavasi’s camerawork as an asset. (Chung’s score, on the other hand, descends into genre cliché pretty quickly.)
But in all, “The Long Night” ends up as a very long-seeming ninety minutes.