Check in to 'The Night' for the hotel you can never leave

Brad Keefe
"The Night'

Let me start by saying something bizarre and wonderful: Welcome to Columbus, Sundance Film Festival!

This weekend the Gateway Film Center is showing Sundance films as a Satellite Screen partner for the festival. These Sundance selections are being screened approximately 1,692 miles closer to home than Park City, Utah.

I’ll be “attending” my first Sundance ever virtually this weekend and will share highlights next week, but if you’re comfortable and want to replicate an experience that likely won’t happen so close to home again, you can get passes and info at gatewayfilmcenter.org/SFF21.

And if you’re staying home, can I interest you in an Iranian horror movie?

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Arriving in theaters and on VOD this weekend, “The Night” marks the directorial debut of director Kourosh Ahari.

Ahari’s influences are not hard to spot, but working from a script he co-wrote, he delivers a solid first film that also plays to a moment where we all may be driven a little mad by the walls around us.

Husband and wife Babak (Shahab Hosseini) and Neda (Niousha Noor) are visiting friends in suburban Los Angeles for a casual dinner party.

After an evening of food, conversation and, in Babak’s part, a few too many drinks, the tired couple and their baby head home.

That is, until a bizarrely malfunctioning GPS map finds them lost. After a tense argument in the car, the couple decides to spend the night in a hotel rather than try to drive home. They take shelter at an old boutique hotel called Hotel Normandie, complete with an unnerving desk attendant. Then things take a turn for the ominous.

So, yeah, you’ve got a couple slowly going mad in an empty motel. It’s not hard to guess what movie “The Night” takes its most inspiration from. (You can’t see a long tracking shot down a hotel hallway and not think of “The Shining.”)

On a small budget in a mostly Farsi script, Ahari executes well, employing an array of tools from the psychological thriller bag of tricks. Sometimes things are just off. Sometimes things are maddening and make the characters and the audience question reality.

As Babak and Neda find themselves trapped in a night that literally won’t end, the tensions of their marriage and the secrets they are keeping begin to come to light even as the sun refuses to come up.

Hosseini and Noor give performances that elevate the movie above its creep factor. It’s raw and honest, as they live a parent’s nightmare of fearing their baby is in danger.

Ahani does make things so unmoored from reality, it can leave viewers a bit lost, and there’s repetition that could have used some revisiting.

But “The Night” is a promising first film that fits the claustrophobia of the moment.

“The Night”

Now playing in theaters and on VOD