Filled with some striking visuals and a lead performance from the always reliable Scout Taylor-Compton, Rich Ragsdale’s The Long Night surprises with just how effective it is. While it does occasionally stumble, too many aspects work to derail it – an enjoyable psychological folk horror.
While searching for the parents she’s never known, New York transplant Grace (Scout Taylor-Compton) returns to her childhood southern stomping grounds with her boyfriend Jack (Nolan Gerard Funk) to investigate a promising lead on her family’s whereabouts. Upon arrival, the couple’s weekend takes a bizarre, terrifying turn as a nightmarish cult and their maniacal leader terrorise the pair en route to fulfilling a twisted ancient apocalyptic prophecy.
There are little visual decisions in The Long Night that leave the audience sensing that something isn’t quite right from the get-go. We are presented with a film that utilises the widest possible lens to film the screen with as much as possible to show how vast the landscape is. Still, it also allows us to see how small and alone are couple are and that even starts from the first scene in Grace and Jack’s apartment. They have a vast space, but they feel so alone and distant in it. It is simple direction and cinematography, but it works marvellously to set up the film’s tone.
When the couple enters the home, that wide anamorphic lens distorts a tad, and it alerts us immediately that all is not what it should be here. Pierluigi Malavasi has found some terrific shot choices that hypnotically make you constantly unsettled. It is small, the small shot choices that work so well. Be it Grace looking through the kitchen window as we get the first glimpse of one of the members of the cult. Even a quick shot of fire licking off a stick from the group waiting for their moment to come. Ragsdale and Malavasi have clearly taken their time in getting the atmosphere pitch-perfect here, and in doing so, they have given us an ominous and, at times, claustrophobic film.
Scout Taylor-Compton is as usual on top form as Grace, a woman who gets far more than she bargained for in learning about her childhood. She has that strong skillset as an actress in horror to convincingly be both terrified yet commanding. You buy into her needing to run away, but to also be absolutely fed up with what has gone on to go and try and do something about it or save another person. Then, of course, she comes with that fantastic trademark scream that rattles you. She grabs the film and makes it firmly her own, and with the acting talent that she has, she makes even the more unbelievable moments in the film work.
Taylor-Compton’s co-star Funk is solid as the initially distant boyfriend Jack. He is given a difficult job to do in being that stereotypical male character in a horror who tries to command a dire situation. However, aided by the script, you can eventually root for him as he does whatever he can to get him and Grace free. He could have easily played to type, but he can bring more out of Jack than you would expect. So as he takes his seemingly constant battering, you live in the hope that he can make it through the night. Possibly the only complaint of his is that when Grace hurts her foot, why doesn’t he just pick her up instead of having her hobble up the stairs!?
The Long Night sets itself up to succeed with a strong lead in Taylor-Compton and a solid visual presence and ominous atmosphere. Yet, it begins to stumble within the script that seems to stretch itself just that ounce too much when it really needed to stay truer to what had gone on before it. When the film focuses on Grace and Jack trying to figure out what is going on and how to escape their masked tormenters, the film works gangbusters and gets into a great rhythm. Then as soon as we leave the discomfort of the house, it stumbles as it tries to expand upon its own narrative too much, stretching more than it needs to.
Some horror films can turn their story on a dime, and it will never miss that beat. Here in The Long Night, it does, not in an overly distracting or derailing kind of way, but noticeable enough to lose the great momentum it had garnered with the previous 60 or so minutes. If anything, the final reveal needed to be toned down more to make it more coherent with what came before it. However, you can never really chastise a script of a low budget film for trying something like this. Especially when there has been so much work to build up entirely fresh lore in such a short runtime.
What we are left with is a more than solid horror film that almost loses its way right when it has its audience by the neck; instead of going for the jugular, it reins itself back in. Despite all of that, there is plenty to enjoy in The Long Night and with the clear vision that it has, it ends up being an entertaining ride for audiences.
In Theaters and Available Digitally on February 4, 2022
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