There’s a very entertaining premise at play in The Overnight. Demons, satanic rituals, and time loops (oh my) are all contained in a haunted hotel. The plot sounds creatively fantastic, and I was drawn to it from the moment JP Nunez brought the trailer to my attention. The movie concerns an influencer, Jessie (Brittany Clark), and her boyfriend David (Zebedee Row) as they embark on a road trip for an intimate weekend free from scheduled postings. After Jessie has an uncomfortable encounter with one of her followers, their car gets a flat. David and Jessie’s plans for an idyllic weekend are sidetracked for an evening, and they’re forced to take up lodging in Monroe Manor, a mysterious old hotel with a history that literally comes to life.
Monroe Manor harbors a rich history of violence stemming from an incident in the satanic panic era of 1985. A summoning spell in the hotel basement brings forth an evil that holds the residents in an infinite loop where every day is so indistinguishable from the last that the staff can set their watches by it. This, of course, includes a nightly demonic rampage replay where the guests and staff bear witness to murder, mayhem, and more.
Social media influencers are usually a hard sell that horror films love to use. From a writer’s perspective, it provides a real-world lifestyle that’s easy to manipulate. Writers have done this in film forever with their own profession as it grants more flexibility in moving the plot forward. The difference is social media influencers are often unlikable characters in horror (see The Seed, The Cleansing Hour), and Jessie is atypical to that standard. Brittany Clark is likable as Jessie, and the relationship she has with her anti-blogger boyfriend has merit. It was nice to see a movie-going against the grain with the character and not offering the audience annoying characters as slaughter-fodder.
In contrast, The Overnight’s plot devices are relatively unoriginal. Ultimately, there’s nothing here horror fans haven’t seen before. The haunted hotel is a staple of the genre going as far back as the beginning of film. Hotels are simply creepy places that make for great settings. The diversion tactic that lands them there at the Monroe is pretty familiar too, though the trope combo is typically used to place characters in an ethereal limbo. To some extent, The Overnight offers that, though it’s in reverse to the usual arrangement. The guests are stuck in this limbo, and Jessie and David’s arrival appear to push things out of whack. The only issue I take with this interesting juxtaposition is once David and Jessie check in with the front desk clerk, Salim (Rajeev Varma), there’s never any indication that they can’t leave other than Salim’s disarming Vincent Price presence that insists, “That seals the deal.”
Then again, why should they? Other than a slight ordeal that momentarily leaves Jessie locked in the bathroom, the hotel has its charms and quirks, distracting the couple who choose to embrace them. According to IMDb, The Overnight uses an abandoned City Hall building dressed up enough to look the part. I’m unsure whether this is the same location on the inside. The exterior has a statured look, while the interior retains the ominousness of the run-down location the filmmakers are going for, which increases the atmosphere of the film tenfold. The set design is both foreboding and enchanting in equal measure. Varma’s entrance exudes House on Haunted Hill (1959) vibes, giving Monroe Manor the potential to be a character itself in the film. Unfortunately, the audience never gets to spend much time being creeped out by particular settings.
As David and Jessie get comfortable at their evening retreat, new disturbing criteria rattle the caretakers and their new guests. A moment of uncomfortable disgust exists in a recoiling shower scene of greasy black goo. From there, The Overnight ramps up on the visual stimuli and tension. Hosting a bar moment that resembles The Shining, introducing the demon-possessed Emma (Castle Rock’s Mathilde Dehaye), and getting satanic in the basement.
I love hotel horror films, and great locations give movies like The Overnight a leg up in telling their stories. That being said, for all The Overnight tries to accomplish, it never finds the right rhythm to utilize all of the elements it wields in its arsenal. In an attempt to be mysterious, the film often forgets to leave clues. While there’s plenty of nuanced dialogue and intrigue, there isn’t enough explanation for what transpires. Time loops aren’t used before being revealed to the viewer, feeling like a missed opportunity for crafting some weird, glitchy terror. More importantly, under-establishing those time loops makes them feel almost unnecessary to the plot prior to the movie’s climax.
Furthermore, the film’s exposition takes on too much at the start. The viewers receive the gift of a wonderfully maniacal Justin L. Wilson as the Stalker character, but much of Jessie and David’s road trip takes the wind out of the sails of a captivating opening sequence. When we start having fun with the film’s imaginative concepts, there’s a lot to like in both makeup and mayhem, but the affair begins too late, and the build-up only provides convolution.
The Overnight was primarily filmed in 2017 as The Stay, but budget restraints and pandemic pressures became real struggles as the film entered the post-production process. I applaud the effort of the filmmakers who fought to make The Overnight under the unique circumstances the last few years have offered. That is not easy. The Overnight is filled with potential and ambitious ideas. Unfortunately, they didn’t all come together as I would have hoped. I’d recommend The Overnight to fans of the hotel-horror subgenre and films like Shelter in Place, The Girl in Cabin 13, Lingering, and House (2008).
The Overnight is currently available on VOD.