Producers: Alex Bretow, Kourosh Ahari, Jeffrey Allard, Cheryl Staurulakis, Armin Amiri and Mohammad Dormanesh Director: Kourosh Ahari Screenplay: Milad Jarmooz and Kourosh Ahari Cast: Shahab Hosseini, Niousha Noor, George Maguire, Elester Latham, Michael Graham, Armin Mehr, Leah Oganyan, Golbarg Khavari, Gia Mora, Ali Khousheshi and Lily V.K. Distributor: IFC Midnight
Any horror movie about a family trapped in a creepy hotel has stiff competition, not least from “The Shining.” Kourosh Ahari’s doesn’t come close to matching that Kubrickian standard, but it has some genuinely effective moments, though not enough to overcome an overall air of predictability. It does, however, carry a special interest in that though an American production shot in Los Angeles, it features a cast predominantly of Iranian descent, with dialogue mostly in Farsi, and has been approved for distribution in Iran. As such it can perhaps serve as a contribution to détente between the two countries.
The couple at the center of things is Babak and Nada Naderi (Shahab Hosseini and Niousha Noor). He’s an emergency room doctor, who’s been in America for awhile; she joined him later, and they now have an infant daughter. They’re introduced at a party with a group of other Iranian expatriates, a mostly happy affair but with hints of tension beneath the surface. When they leave with their child, Babak insists on driving, though he’s more than a little tipsy. When the GPS goes crazy he gets lost and runs over something in the road, leading Nada to suggest that they spend the night in a hotel instead of trying to find their way home.
That takes them to the Hotel Normandie, where after a brief encounter with a homeless man (Elester Latham) on the street, they’re registered by an officious, prim receptionist (George Maguire) and sent to a room on the fourth floor. But they find little peace there. Strange noises keep them awake. Rapping occurs at their door, and when Nada opens it, she finds a little boy who quickly scuttles away. Eventually they call a policeman (Michael Graham), but he spends most of his time expressing suspicions of them rather than helping.
Even more peculiar is the fact that doubles seem to appear: they begin to see one another doing things that they deny doing at all, including carrying the baby down to the lobby. It doesn’t help that the kid is irritable all night, crying and fussing. And there’s a ghostly robed figure that sometimes shows up threateningly. When the receptionist intrudes, it’s to talk about tragedies he’s witnessed that seem designed to unsettle. And, of course, the couple’s attempts to leave are thwarted.
Throughout all this Hosseini and Noor are convincing as the man and wife trapped in an inexplicable twilight zone, and Maguire and Latham add a few unnerving moments as the only other people around. Production designer Jennifer Dehghan and cinematographer Maz Makhani work together to fashion a sinister atmosphere and composer Nima Fakhrara adds to the mood, while Ahari edits to maximize the sense of dread, which culminates in an enigmatically spooky final scene with a mirror.
Ultimately, though, he and co-writer Milad Jarmooz feel it necessary to provide an explanation behind all the weird goings-on, and it proves to be altogether too obvious, suggesting the couple deserves to suffer because of dark secrets they’ve been keeping from one another. It’s a sadly prosaic denouement to a cinematic frightener that until then has been more visually poetic.
“The Night” earns points for style, but in narrative terms proves a bit of a letdown: it would have been better to let the audience stew in mystery rather than be spoon-fed an unsatisfying explanation. Maybe that’s an indication that the picture might have worked better in shorter form, as an episode in an anthology television series, for example.