“The long night begins…”
…Those are words you typically don’t want to hear, especially if you’re in a horror movie, but that’s exactly the dreaded omen a couple receives in director Rich Ragsdale’s The Long Night.
Written by Robert Sheppe and Mark Young (Feral), The Long Night stars Scout Taylor-Compton as Grace, an orphan from the south who has spent her life trying to find her parents. After tracking down a source who may have the info she needs, Grace and her pretentious, rich kid boyfriend Jack (Nolan Gerard Funk) leave the city and head to an isolated house in the south to meet Grace’s contact. But once there, they find themselves surrounded by a satanic cult that seems particularly interested in Grace.
The Long Night doesn’t rewrite the satanic bible on these types of movies. Instead, it goes down the checklist of nearly every trope you can imagine. Orphaned girl searching for answers about her past. Shitty boyfriend that is arguably worse than the cultists. Animal sacrifices. Deep, chanting voices on phones that don’t work. Cars that don’t start. It’s all there.
The difference is Ragsdale’s stylish direction and a tortured performance from Taylor-Compton that transforms The Long Night from an average cult horror flick to something strangely hypnotic.
Ever since Taylor-Compton’s run as Laurie Strode in Rob Zombie’s Halloween films, it feels as if she’s been unfairly pushed out of the spotlight, and you know what? I’m mad about it. Sure, she’s still getting a ton of work, but we’re talking about someone with a gift for horror who deserves to be in more mainstream features. Look no further than The Long Night for why. Taylor-Compton brings a shy vulnerability to the role that gets the audience on her side the moment we realize Jack is your average controlling, always ignoring what she wants d-bag. He dismisses her feelings. Questions her instincts. And constantly demeans the place she’s from.
Jack sucks. Solid performance from Funk, but Jack is the worst. Avoid guys like Jack.
Underneath Grace’s quiet demeanor bubbles something primal, built from years of being alone and frustrated by the world, something which Taylor-Compton unleashes in extraordinary fashion. An actor is so much more than how well they can scream, but in horror it matters and Taylor-Compton is on a level unmatched by most. The pain, anger and utter terror which Grace lets loose is damn near Hell-raising, with a devastating performance from Taylor-Compton that shook me to my core. She’s like an animal in this, unpredictable and completely enthralling. The weak script doesn’t give Grace much to do but run around and scream, yet Taylor-Compton manages to elevate the otherwise basic character with an agonized portrayal that feels unbearably human despite little to no characterization.
The Long Night is one-hundred percent style over substance, but that’s not inherently a negative.
Ragsdale’s film takes quite a bit of inspiration from the likes of Kubrick in terms of the look and feel, even going so far as to straight up steal the theme from The Shining for a lengthy overhead sequence of Grace and Jack driving up to the Overlook Hotel-style southern mansion (gorgeous location, by the way). The Long Night is foreboding as hell, incorporating long takes that fade in and out, a foggy setting, and a creeping tension that slithers under the skin. Coupled with surreal visions that occasionally steal Grace away from reality, Ragsdale entrances the viewer like a snake with spirals in its eyes. Many sequences capture the same vibe as when The Shining’s Jack Torrance encounters the old woman in the bathroom. Methodical, eerie and deeply unsettling. Every once in a while, an unintentionally goofy moment threatens to derail the terror being built—along with some cringe sexual metaphors—but The Long Night manages to hold onto the audience despite its flaws.
Ragsdale has a history of directing music videos, and it shows. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think you were watching a well-produced Slayer video. Pierluigi Malavasi’s cinematography frames the creepy, goat-skull wearing cultists through lingering angles and washes them in a hellish red lighting, while Jay Gartland’s editing sucks the viewer in with a dreamy pace. The Long Night is a stylish nightmare that becomes near impossible to discern what’s real and what’s not. The plot—or lack thereof—isn’t all that seductive, but Ragsdale’s direction manages to spear you with a pitchfork and hold you over the fire anyway.
The Long Night moves along at a brisk pace, throwing Grace and Jack into the home invasion from Hell pretty early on, despite the script sinking into a pit of repetition. How many times can we see shots of the cult standing around outside and watching the terrified couple? Neither character is ever really doing much except running from room to room, screaming, and encountering a single cultist every once in a while. Some vague lore attempts to keep things interesting, but again, there’s very little going on underneath the surface of The Long Night. It’s all about the atmospherics, which are exceptional.
A southern fried home invasion thriller with a few effective scares and a fiery performance from Taylor-Compton, The Long Night is light on plot but heavy on a surreal style that makes you wonder what Ragsdale could do with a great script. The Long Night isn’t that, but on a long, chilly night by the fire, you could do much worse than this devilish horror flick.
The Long Night comes to digital on February 4th from Well Go USA Entertainment.
By Matt Konopka