Film Review: American-Iranian Conceptual Horror ‘The Night’

Kourosh Ahari directs and co-writes (alongside Milad Jarmooz) The Night, a slow-burning horror that refuses to opt for easy answers and explanations as it examines a traumatic night between an Iranian couple staying in a haunted US hotel.

Babak Naderi  (Shahab Hosseini) and his wife Neda  (Niousha Jafarian) enjoy a night with friends yet tensions brew between them. With their navigation system going haywire, a lack of petrol, and an unsettled infant daughter, the couple decide to stay at the nearby Hotel Normandie (Taxis don’t seem to come into the equation). Events in the hotel grow progressively strange with strange sightings, sounds, and characters coming out of the woodwork.

The film, a co-production between the US and Iran was produced with each department headed by an American-Iranian with most of the film’s dialogue in Persian. The film’s official website describes it as the first major cinematic American-Iranian co-production in some time.

Ahari crafts an undeniably impressive atmosphere from the growing sense of tension between the couple at the claustrophobic dinner party to the voyeuristic shots peering into their instant daughter’s crib. Even before taking us to the Hotel Normandie, Ahari builds up this uneasy atmosphere, planting the seeds for the off-kilter journey that is about to unfold including strange figures lurking outside the hotel and the sound of howling alley cats around. Cinematographer Maz Makhani gives the film an expensive, full style capturing the sense of terror in the dilapidated urban exteriors, whilst evoking a dark, creaking and leaky atmosphere in the Hotel Normandie (that may strike some parallels with the Cecil Hotel to horror and true crime fans). There is the sense that secrets linger in the darkness and there are risks to found round every corner.

Jarmooz and Ahari’s narrative deploys a number of impressive scare tactics. An intense visit from an intimidating police officer contains a spine-chilling moment of horror trickery that lingers, whilst the creeping and cooing voices from varying locations in the hotel craft a general sense of unease and panic. Jennifer Dehghan’s production design makes the most from the decaying, former Art Deco hotel and its shabby interiors, crafting a suitable canvas for this chilling showcase of supernatural horror.

Ahari discreetly touches on numerous social and political angles throughout The Night ensuring that the scares are balancing out with a narrative with a clear voice. The experience of the Iranian couple in a predominantly white country with a history of racism and class dichotomy gives the film a further edge – scenes like that of the visiting white police officer provide a realistically unpleasant edge, whilst an encounter with a homeless man outside captures issues of class and the American Dream.

There are numerous moments in The Night that do not allow for easy explanation with the narrative twisting and turning in surreal and ambiguous directions which are likely to defy your predictions. Metaphors for the secrets between the couple and moments of distrust and betrayal are echoed in various symbolic moments further suggesting their marriage crisis.

The Night does overstay its welcome, but for those in the mood for some conceptually challenging horror carried through the vessel of a haunted hotel picture, this atmospheric chiller will hit the spot.

The Night is available to stream from Friday the 2nd of April.