I was really excited to watch The Long Night. The trailer promised a creepy mashup of supernatural and folk horror, and as a big fan of both subgenres, I just couldn’t pass this film up. I put it on my to-watch list right away, and I eagerly awaited the day I would finally be able to see it.
Directed by Rich Ragsdale, The Long Night stars Scout Taylor-Compton, Nolan Gerard Funk, and Deborah Kara Unger. It’s about a woman named Grace who returns to her hometown with her boyfriend Jack to find her biological parents, and while there, an eerie cult terrorizes the couple in order to fulfill an ancient prophecy.
That sounds like just about the perfect folk horror plot, but unfortunately, The Long Night wastes a lot of its potential. Don’t get me wrong, this is far from a terrible film, and I was actually pretty happy by the time the credits began to roll, but I think it could (and probably should) have been much better.
For starters, the movie does a poor job of establishing Grace and Jack as a couple. We get little more than just a few minutes of them acting lovey-dovey in the beginning, and then the creepy stuff starts happening very soon afterward. It just wasn’t enough to get me to buy into their relationship, so I was never really on board with them.
On top of that, the little bit of character development The Long Night does attempt fell pretty flat for me. For example, before the couple heads out to Grace’s hometown, they stop off to visit Jack’s parents, but we never actually see them there. They talk about it in the opening scene, but then the next thing you know, they’re on the road to find Grace’s family, so the movie completely skips their stop at Jack’s childhood home.
In itself, that’s not the worst thing in the world, but the film makes the mistake of trying to use this event to flesh out Grace and Jack’s relationship a bit. Grace is upset that Jack didn’t stand up for her when his parents were mean to her, and while I won’t bore you with all the details of why this fails, I will say that at its core, the main problem is that we never actually see the incident.
See, one of the cardinal rules of filmmaking is that it’s always better to show the audience something than to simply have one of the characters say it, and this omission illustrates that point perfectly. Since we don’t see what happened, we don’t feel any of Grace’s pain. Her negative experience with Jack’s parents doesn’t mean anything to us, so it doesn’t round out the characters in any substantial way.
Admittedly, that’s just one scene, but it showcases the main problem with the characters in The Long Night. They never got me to buy into them, so right off the bat, the film was already fighting an uphill battle.
Now, this is a very small, very contained movie, so since the characters didn’t work for me, the only thing that could’ve saved it was the horror. But unfortunately, for the first hour or so, the horror is pretty lackluster, too. The trailer teases some really creepy imagery and a great atmosphere, and even though those elements worked great in the trailer, they fell pretty flat for me in the context of the entire film.
For one, while The Long Night is very atmospheric, something about the atmosphere just didn’t feel authentic. Great movies like The Witch and The Shining simply draw out the sense of dread that’s inherent in their stories, but this one is different. It often felt like the film was trying too hard, and sometimes it even fabricated an atmosphere that shouldn’t have been there.
Secondly, the creepy imagery gets old very quickly. It’s mainly just eerie cult members either standing still or moving slowly and deliberately, and it has a very ‘been there, done that’ feel to it. This first hour doesn’t show us anything we haven’t seen numerous times before, so the horror in this part simply isn’t original enough to carry the movie.
There were a couple of times when I thought The Long Night would pick up a bit, but the film quickly returned to the status quo every time. It took until about the hour mark for the horror to really get interesting, and while it’s usually too little too late at that point (the movie is only 90 minutes), I actually quite enjoyed the last half hour of this one. It’s not exactly scary, but it gives us the intriguing horror-centric story the first hour kept promising but never really delivered.
The cult members finally begin to do more than just stand around looking creepy, so the story really gets going. You learn more about their aims and beliefs, and they show you just how evil they truly are. It’s a lot like the moments in the first hour when I thought the film would finally pick up speed, but this time, it doesn’t stop until the credits roll.
In fact, I’d even say that this last half-hour makes The Long Night worth a watch. Granted, it’s not good enough to make me want to see the film again, but it did leave me feeling pretty good about having watched it once, and the way I see it, that’s enough to earn a thumbs up.
So if you’re looking for some good new horror to watch this month, check out The Long Night. It’s not going to end up on too many (if any!) best-of-the-year lists come December, but if you’re a hardcore genre fan, I think the final 30 minutes are enjoyable enough that you’ll be glad you gave the movie a shot.
The Long Night hits theaters and on VOD on February 4.