Trapped in a sinister hotel, a couple must reveal troubling secrets to each other in order to get out alive in “The Night,” a light-impact but absorbingly atmospheric horror picture, psychothriller and marital drama opening Friday in select theater and on Video on Demand.
With its malevolent hotel setting, this feature debut by filmmaker Kourosh Ahari, cowriting with Milad Jarmooz, can’t help but suggest Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining,” but it foremost reflects Ahari’s own creative sensibilities and Iranian-American background.
Set in Los Angeles and with characters speaking Farsi, the drama centers on an Iran-born couple, Babak (Shahab Hosseini) and Neda (Niousha Jafarian), who have an infant daughter, his-and-her tattoos, and personal sore points involving the separation they experienced when Neda had to remain in Iran for several years before she could join Babak in the United States.
Their ordeal begins when the pair and their baby are heading home from a dinner gathering where casual conversations, skillfully presented by Ahari, inform us of strains in the couple’s marriage. In the car, a combination of alcohol, a toothache, and his own stubborn nature is causing Babak to drive erratically and act belligerently, and the GPS, possibly forebodingly, is malfunctioning.
The situation irks Neda and wakes the baby. To chill out, the family checks into a hotel for the night.
The cryptically mumbling man near the door (Elester Latham) and the strange receptionist (George Maguire) who won’t give his name serve as early uh-oh signs, and after the family enters their room, the spookiness intensifies. Pounding sounds come from the ceiling and the door, and Neda hears a child’s voice saying, “Mommy?” At one point, Babak takes the baby downstairs to calm her, and, later, Neda does the same, but neither remembers that the other has done so. Babak sees a bloody body in the bathtub.
While each character initially believes that the other is deluded when claiming to experience such weirdness, both come to agree that something horrific is happening.
The nightmare stems from secrets that Babak and Neda are keeping from each other. Until they reveal these truths, no way out of the hotel can exist for the trapped family.
The secrets, when explained, aren’t particularly shocking, and Ahari’s lowish-pilot directing also limits dramatic impact.
Additionally, Neda and Babak don’t convince viewers they share, or once shared, a deeply loving bond, making it difficult to feel something substantial is at stake as their relationship unravels.
But Ahari’s assured feature debut nonetheless comes together as a satisfyingly creepy genre picture and an observant human drama about a marriage in trouble. He displays a gift for creating moody atmospheres and melds psychological and supernatural elements seamlessly.
The actors (Hosseini has appeared in Asghar Farhadi’s “A Separation” and “The Salesman”; Jafarian’s TV credits include “Here and Now”) give excellent, convincing performances, depicting Babak’s intensifying anger and Neda’s similarly growing dread effectively in both the gritty marital and surreal horror scenes.
Ahari provides the requisite jump scares, while simple light and shadow create striking visual imagery. Angsty sound effects convey the mounting unease.
REVIEW: The Night ★★★
Starring: Shahab Hosseini, Niousha Jafarian
Directed by: Kourosh Ahari
Written by: Kourosh Ahari, Milad Jarmooz
Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes
“Dear Comrades!,” a historical tragicomedy from veteran Russian filmmaker Andrei Konchalovsky (“The Postman’s White Nights”), revisits the long-hushed-up massacre of unarmed workers who were demanding lower prices and better living conditions in the town of Novocherkassk, in the Soviet Union, in 1962. Soviet soldiers and the KGB killed 26 people in the incident.
Konchalovsky dramatizes the massacre and numerous related events through the eyes of a bureaucrat named Lyuda (terrifically played by Konchalovsky regular Julia Vysotskaya), a hardline communist who, in an early scene, recommends that the government treat striking workers harshly.
But when her 18-year-old daughter goes missing, Lyuda, having witnessed the government-perpetrated carnage, desperately searches for her child, dead or alive. The horror of the massacre, and the burying of victims in unmarked graves, causes Lyuda to question the communist promise, which she has long embraced.
Presented in black and white, in a format resembling that of 1960s Soviet films, and initially a little cold in tone, the movie at first is hard to access emotionally. But once you start absorbing it, it becomes a riveting depiction of the Soviet bureaucracy, a stirringly angry condemnation of the Novocherkassk massacre and cover-up, and an unsentimentally affecting story of a mother’s love.
“Dear Comrades!” opens in virtual cinemas Friday and on demand and Hulu Feb. 5.
REVIEW: Dear Comrades! ★★★½
Starring: Julia Vysotskaya, Vladislav Komarov, Andrei Gusev, Yulia Burova
Written and directed by: Andrei Konchalovsky
Running time: 2 hours