The Night

The Night

2021, R, 105 min. Directed by Kourosh Ahari. Starring Shahab Hosseini, Niousha Noor, George Maguire, Michael Graham, Elester Latham, Armin Amiri, Steph Martinez, Kathreen Khavari.

REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Jan. 29, 2021

"The truth shall set you free" is the simple key to The Night, an intriguing and groundbreaking supernatural thriller that traps a married couple, Babak (Hosseini) and Neda (Noor), in a mysterious hotel that doesn't seem to want to let them leave.

Where The Night is a landmark is in its production history: the first American-made film to be licensed for release in Iran since the 1979 revolution. Shot in the U.S., and filmed and performed primarily in Farsi by a cast and crew predominantly of Iranian migrants and American citizens of Iranian descent, the weight of being an expat hangs on every moment of The Night, right from the opening dinner party where Babak and Noor are hanging with other expats. She's still somewhat giddy with new motherhood; he's chatting with friends about his job as a doctor. But there are clear tensions, exposed when he insists on driving home, even as she tries to give him every option to crash on their host's couch, or find a hotel, or give her the keys. The latter is an option that he takes off the table immediately: How can she drive with a suspended license?

When he finally caves after a near-crash, and books them into a conveniently situated hotel, their seeds of the stress between them are exploited by all the traditional tropes of the haunted mansion genre: screeching cats, mysterious knocking sounds, footsteps in the hall, a peculiar old man outside of the hotel who is oddly fascinated by the new, interlocking tattoos that the couple just had inked into their flesh as a now-tragicomic reflection of their bond. Ahari, who wrote the script with Milad Jarmooz, doesn't change the ghost story formula but undoubtedly adds new context to the tensions between the spouses. It's a slow build to collapse, escaping the traditional trap of such supernatural suspense films in that both of them have secrets, and it's not the acts themselves but the deceits that have led them to this place.

Noor and Hosseini also give true life to Babak and Neda, most importantly making them live onscreen as migrants with all the complexities of experience that can bring. Their times separated between two nations have created the fault lines that the hotel, its exact uncanny nature never fully revealed, is turning into a rift, but they are also a rare depiction of a middle class Middle Eastern couple (and especially Iranian American) onscreen. Geopolitics is not a factor, but the way they switch from Farsi to English as the situation demands (as is how one character almost ostentatiously drops into English during after-dinner conversation), her covered hair, his vaping, give subtle new shades to a traditional yet still eerie haunting tale.

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More Shahab Hosseini Films
The Salesman
Gripping drama from the director of A Separation

Kimberley Jones, Feb. 3, 2017

A Separation
Nominee for a Best Foreign Language Oscar, this Iranian film is a smart, unusual, and highly involving story about making moral choices in the absence of villains.

Marjorie Baumgarten, Feb. 10, 2012

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The Night, Kourosh Ahari, Shahab Hosseini, Niousha Noor, George Maguire, Michael Graham, Elester Latham, Armin Amiri, Steph Martinez, Kathreen Khavari

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