Film Review – The Night (2020)

Receiving the green light before the now overthrown – Mr. Orange-Skinned Man and his fascist administration could sanction its production, The Night marks a landmark moment for Iranian cinema – being the first American-made film to see a theatrical release in its Persian homeland since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, after a long and complex suppression of artistic impression.

Directed and co-written by Kourosh Ahari, the 2020 psychological horror film features a cast and crew made up of almost entirely people of Iranian descent. Whether it U.S.-born Iranian-Americans or Iranian immigrants who are legal citizens and green card holders, Ahari’s film acts as an embodiment of breaking down walls. The vast majority of dialogue on-screen is spoken in Farsi with dinky spells of American English. It’s truly fantastic to see a film of this scale and magnitude on display. In a time where prejudice still runs rife throughout the world, The Night invites a breath of fresh air and a welcoming of positively nonidentical culture for audiences. The final product is not only one of the finest foreign-language you’ll see this year but likely one of the finest horror films you’ll see in 2021!

Starring Shahab Hosseini and Niousha Noor, the Iran-U.S. co-production follows exhausted married couple Babak (Hosseini) and Neda (Noor) and their young baby, who decide to stay at a Los Angeles hotel after spending the evening with their friends. Inside Hotel Normandie (which is an actual operational and fully functional LA hotel under the same name) lay mysterious disturbances and a malevolent presence that will see the three in for an endless and tortuous night.

Opening with the quote, “A multiverse and only one universe and one true universe…!?”, The Night has an unsubtle approach to its themes and foreshadowing of burdening secrets and the strains they hold on the livelihood of relationships as well as how they damage oneself internally. Albeit, Kourosh Ahari‘s film puffs new life into the somewhat tired psychological horror subgenre.

With “cursed tattoos”, broken down lifts and bog-standard jump scares, the film uses these tired horror tropes for maximum effect. Through its brilliantly-written plot, Ahari and co-writer Milad Jarmooz masterfully create a constant base layer of tension, dread and unease. Much like the flickering neon of Hotel Normandie, The Night is tinged with existential terror. With the build-up each scare and reveal, you can feel your face winding tighter and tighter to the point of it becoming physically painful.

As previously mentioned, The Night mostly consists of cast and crew members of Iranian descent. Its two lead actors give world-class performances! Both Shahab Hosseini and Niousha Noor play their respect parts commandingly. The paranoia, confusion and terror Babak and Neda both experience in grand, eerie LA hotel is completely believable. And why is it whenever there’s a baby or small child thrown into the mix, the film becomes increasingly unnerving? The innocence of children being unwillingly dragged into the horror that unfolds on-screen is especially difficult to digest.

Other key characters include a homeless man who loiters outside the hotel, two ghosts that haunt Babak and Neda and the halls and corridors of Hotel Normandie, as well as a suspect hotel receptionist that echoes caretaker, Delbert Grady of The Shining. George Maguire’s character even has a scene that talks about the various, extremely detailed scenes of death he’s seen over the years all whilst feeding Babak and Neda’s young child a bottle of milk. Right down to the juxtaposing hotel lobby, jazz-styled lounge music that tiptoes through the background ever so menacingly, the monologue is deeply disturbing to sit through.

Speaking of creepy Mr. Grady-esque receptionist, there’s a very abundant Kubrickian style of filmmaking from Ahari. From Maz Makhani’s intricate camerawork, to the lavish Overlook Hotel-inspired interior set pieces and constant feeling of vast emptiness, The Night wears its influences on its sleeve. And do you know what? That’s absolutely okay! Like what Yorgos Lanthimos accomplished with The Favourite in reproducing the aesthetic of Barry Lyndon for a modern audience, Ahari replicates with his film. It doesn’t feel like a fanboys love letter to Kubrick‘s Shining. Not once during the course of its runtime does it feel like it’s flogging a dead horse. It is incessantly its own beast entirely. While there’s a miniscule amount of predictable moments and forgivable plot holes, you can crack a smile of relief in the familiarity at these technical aspects whilst being fully engrossed into its distinctive paradoxical space and time that Ahari creates.

At its core; another haunted hotel/ghost story, The Night is really a foray into something much less supernatural and much more emotive but equally as sinister. Raising many heart-wrenching questions throughout the runtime and closing on its heavy opening foreshadowing of a multiverse, it showcases that horror speaks many languages and is never lost in translation. An historic moment for Iranian cinema and a bone-chilling entry from Kourosh Ahari that will hopefully see him continue to soar onto even more greatness.

★★★★


Horror, Thriller | Iran, 2020 | 15 | Digital HD | 2nd April 2021 (UK) | Vertigo Releasing | Dir. Kourosh Ahari | Shahab Hosseini, Niousha Noor, George Maguire, Armin Amiri,