Salem Horror Fest 2021: The Monster Metaphor and Scary Reality of Take Back the Night

It’s rare to be surprised anymore as a horror fan. We’ve seen it all, and we’ve become desensitized to many of the genre’s gory spectacles and jump scares. But when we find something that genuinely unnerves and unsettles us, it consumes our minds even long after the credits have rolled. Take Back the Night had me glued to my seat. I couldn’t put it out of my mind even after I began to watch another movie.  

Take Back the Night throws you in the deep end immediately, granting a glimpse at what is about to transpire, showing our soon-to-be protagonist Jane (The Collection‘s Emma Fitzpatrick) distressed and on the verge of jumping in front of a subway train. The scene further indicates how heavy this film is going to get with audio over the brief scene conveying Jane’s answers to a lie detector test. It isn’t expressed clearly right away, but it becomes apparent that Jane is the victim of a sexual assault.  

A distressed Jane looks contemplative in her red hoodie in Take Back the Night

The film takes us back to the evening everything changed for Jane, as she celebrates her displayed works at an art gallery opening with pills, alcohol, Instagram, and a brief sexual encounter. Jane helps escort a friend into an Uber, but her network coverage drops as she’s about to order one for herself. On her walk down a dimly lit alley, Jane’s senses are heightened. She makes it to the end of the alley, but a repugnant man locking the gate asks her what she’ll do for him if he lets her out, and Jane decides to find another way around instead. 

One of the most creative choices in Take Back the Night is its utilization of an all-female cast to tell this story. Male cast members seem to be present, like the voiceover, the man at the end of the alley, or Jane’s party encounter, but they’re presented out of focus, off-camera, or shrouded in darkness. This makes a wonderful point that speaks volumes to the female perspective. As a man, I don’t view a dark alley the same way. It’s a privilege I’ve taken for granted, and I bet most men do. Walking down dark streets has never given me a reason to pause or made me feel a sense of danger outside of usual caution. Elliot’s direction and Fitzpatrick’s acting bring attention and a fair amount of suspense to something I never considered. 

What follows is Jane’s encounter with what she refers to as “It.” A monster of shadows, glowing green eyes, and teeth. The effects of the alley creature aren’t particularly impressive, but this is a low-budget horror film, and if we look past the special effects, the monster’s design doesn’t matter. The monster could look like anything, and the story, written by Elliot and Fitzpatrick, wouldn’t change. However, I believe the monster is created to resemble a boogeyman on purpose. This way, the writers can delve into the beast of whirlwind psychological effects brought on by an encounter of this type. Besides, the monster isn’t the only horrifying part of this layered production, and Jane soon discovers a system that would rather overwhelm and blame the victim than try to stop her attacker. 

Jane sees the monster behind her while live streaming on social media in Take Back the Night

Jane attempts to seek justice through the appropriate channels, but she’s met with skepticism due to her activities at the party earlier in the evening, as well as her past transgressions with police and medical history. When the detective (Jennifer Lafleur) in charge of her case begins to dig further, she finds inconsistencies in Jane’s story that lead her to believe Jane’s account is fabricated. The believability of Jane’s attack becomes likened to a child asking for help from the Boogeyman as neither the police, Jane’s sister (Angela Gulner), or her Instagram followers find her description of events particularly believable, and they begin telling Jane the monster isn’t there. 

Jane’s sister, though well-intentioned, finds the way Jane is dealing with her attack to be incorrect. Jane puts her story on the internet, telling her sister that she can help people with her story, and generally she is trying to move on from the event. Her more reserved sister suggests a conservative approach in laying low and seeking therapy while going as far as to shame Jane for how she lives her life. Psychologically speaking, there is no correct way to go through something like this. Trauma creates cognitive dissonance in these situations, altering details to help the recovery process. We all grieve, heal, and process things in our own time and in our own ways, but Jane’s sister, as a character, fulfills a societal argument just like the police detective.  

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women have experienced some form of sexual assault in their lifetime. Of the assaults that are reported, only between two and ten percent are considered false reports. That doesn’t change the fact that victims of abuse and assault are treated like criminals in this country by an outdated system. Take Back the Night‘s plot is reminiscent of the Netflix series Unbelievable, but writer/director Gia Elliot and co-writer/star Emma Fitzpatrick put their own spin on the story by using a monster movie template to tell their own brilliant story. 

Jane stares directly into the Camera looking terrified in Take Back the Night

The film’s approach to the subject matter is uniquely original, disquieting, and utterly disturbing. If the monster’s appearance doesn’t scare you, the flaws in our broken system should. Take Back the Night is a gem, not only at Salem Horror Fest but in horror films to come out of 2021. It’s both socially conscious and effectively scary. This film will sit with you in the corners of your mind, making you grit your teeth in anger over a process that requires actionable change. While I thoroughly enjoyed Take Back the Night, I will admit I found that the film tries a little too hard to turn the metaphoric monster into a reality at the end, opting for lore over the stand-in of an actual, albeit sadistic, human being. Humans terrify me more than monsters, but the film holds up regardless.  

Take Back the Night played this past weekend as a part of Salem Horror Fest. The in-person festival is over now, but the film can be seen as part of the virtual festival beginning October 22 and running through Halloween. Passes for the virtual festival can be purchased through the Salem Horror Fest website.


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Written by Sean Parker

Living just outside of Boston, Sean has always been facinated by what horror can tell us about contemporary society. He started writing music reviews for a local newspaper in his twenties and found a love for the art of thematic and symbolic analysis. Sean joined Horror Obsessive at it's inception, and is currently the site's Creative Director. He produces and edits the weekly Horror Obsessive podcast for the site as well as his interviews with guests. He has recently started his foray into feature film production as well, his credits include Alice Maio Mackay's Bad Girl Boogey, Michelle Iannantuono's Livescreamers, and Ricky Glore's upcoming Troma picture, Sweet Meats.

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