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The Long Night Bottles up Folk-Horror Leaving Mixed Opinions

- The Long Night - Photo Credit: Shudder

Coming to Shudder this week, director Rich Ragsdale (The Curse of El Charro, Ghost House) brings us his latest feature film. The Long Night stars Rob Zombie’s Halloween’s Scout Taylor-Compton as Grace, a woman from the city desperately searching for answers about her biological parents. After she and her boyfriend, Jack (The Flight Attendant’s Nolan Gerard Funk), find a clue that takes them to a house in the deep south. What was supposed to be a quiet weekend reconnecting with her roots becomes a fight for survival when a sinister cult shows up outside their door.  

Jack comforting Grace
Photo Courtesy of Shudder

After viewing The Long Night, I took to the internet. I usually log the films I watch on Letterboxd, and then I may check out what others had to say about the film. I didn’t think I’d actually be covering this title this week because Horror Obsessive covered The Long Night some time ago, and JP Nunez is outstanding at highlighting the best and/or worst parts of any releases he discusses. Of course, I read his article when I finished the film, and I told him that I saw the movie a little differently and decided to write my own review. I respect JP’s opinion. Hell, I even agree with him on a few things. Still, I wanted to provide another view on the film in case others saw the movie differently as well.

As JP pointed out in his review, there are some things the film does poorly, or perhaps unnecessarily, in this case, concerning Grace and Jack’s relationship. It captures them serenely in their less than idyllic New York apartment momentarily but then shows them fighting in the car after making a pit stop at Jack’s parents’ house. As JP said, “the movie completely skips their stop at Jack’s childhood home.” My problem with the scene wasn’t that they skipped the fight so much. I’m unconvinced adding another three-to-five-minute sequence in a location that didn’t move the film forward would help the film succeed in what it’s trying to do. However, the concept of there having been a discordance in the first place is curious to anyone viewing Grace’s apprehension toward Jack when she contends he never sticks up for her. Still, like JP, I felt this scene was forced. It almost feels like it was haphazardly thrown in on a reshoot to create conflict because it covers for the fact that Compton and Funk’s chemistry is lukewarm at best.

Neither performance is bad in any way; it’s just this one scene is so out of place that, while struggling to put your finger on why you discover, cutting this clash from the narrative spoils the reality the film is trying to create. I won’t dwell further on this particular moment, but I think if they had just had a dispute in the car on the way to investigate Grace’s origins, the scene would never blip on the radar in the first place.  

Grace covered in blood
Photo Courtesy of Shudder

That is where JP and I agree on The Long Night the most; the characters are never entirely fleshed out, and because of that, we don’t succumb to more than a surface-level investment in them. But, as JP will probably tell you, that isn’t always the worst thing in a horror movie, specifically for a black hat audience that would rather see the villainous cult win in this situation. The problem there is Grace and Jack aren’t completely unlikeable characters; they’re just vanilla. And since we don’t know what the hell’s going on with a cult that’s there one second and gone the next, we have no allegiances to them either.  

Where I start to diverge from JP is on the atmospherics. I found many of the film’s images and unusual plot diversions in the first hour of the film to be equally confounding and engrossing. Since The Long Night is a bottleneck thriller, something has to happen, or you’re left with a movie about two people waiting in a house. While the film starts off rocky, it does find its footing by disorienting viewers with a handful of red flags. First, with the residence the couple is staying in belonging to a man they have never seen and were supposed to meet, then through the use of animals, and finally with a dream sequence that leads the couple to a very relatable, “aw hell no” moment. You even begin praising the film for making an uncommonly smart decision in a recognizable horror scenario by deciding to just get the hell out of dodge. Then, it gets weirder. 

A creepy cult member
Photo Courtesy of Shudder

While you’re riding high on a wave of heart-palpitating terror in The Long Night’s fascinating albeit bewildering moments, the entrance of Lost’s Jeff Fahey injects an added energy into the film when he comes looking for the house’s owner, finding Grace and Jack instead. While the film exudes a The Strangers via Kill List vibe, it’s never more tense than when Fahey’s Wayne goes manic in the movie and becomes an unknowing participant in a cult ritual that lured Grace back to the town on the longest night of the year. This also leads us to where the biggest disconnection in The Long Night comes into play. 

For all the fun the audience has watching the supernatural horror unfold, the last act completely misses by cooking up reasoning so far-fetched and using absurd imagery to boot that audiences will ultimately scoff at and reject it. Where my colleague had previously written, “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,” I strongly disagree. I found the film’s change of pace to be far too outlandish for its first hour of unsettling storytelling. While the movie does have another excellent performance from The Game’s Deborah Kara Unger as the cult’s Master at this point, The Long Night ultimately takes a bold, hard swing and misses the mark. 

Wayne reaches out on the stairs of the porch in The Long Night
Photo Courtesy of Shudder

Folk horror is beginning to fill up the digital shelves of Shudder’s accrued collection, and while The Long Night has its charms, it also feels like just another low-budget bottleneck thriller exploiting folk horror themes to sneak itself into a popular subgenre. Beginning with the use of unneeded chapter markers, much like Mickey Keating’s Offseason employed, The Long Night doesn’t try to deliver the slow-burn of a folk tale or offer any moral beyond a simplistic interpretation of Thomas Wolfe’s You Can’t Go Home Again.

What I found the most interesting between my take and JP’s was how differently we saw The Long Night only to arrive at a similar conclusion about the film overall. I thought the first half held a rather foreboding set up with a magnetic pull to the paranormal inflection of the film, while JP appreciated the end of the film and found that held the most enjoyment for him. This is why I love film. Different parts of the experience will speak to different people, and I guess you’ll have to see The Long Night for yourself to see what you think as well. 

The Long Night premieres on Shudder on June 30. 

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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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