Review: ‘The Night’ (2021), Shahab Hosseini and Niousha Noor

March 13, 2021

by Carla Hay

Shahab Hosseini in “The Night” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films/IFC Midnight)

“The Night” (2021)

Directed by Kourosh Ahari

Some language in Persian (Farsi) with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, the horror film “The Night” features a predominantly Iranian cast of characters (with a few white people and one African American) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A married couple and their baby daughter stay in a creepy hotel for the night and experience unexpected terror.

Culture Audience: “The Night” will appeal primarily to people who like ghost stories and don’t mind watching a horror movie that takes a while to get to the movie’s biggest scares.

Niousha Noor in “The Night” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films/IFC Midnight)

Some horror movies put frightening scenes early on on the movie to hook in viewers, but the horror flick “The Night” has a “slow burn” type of terror that is best appreciated by people who have the patience to watch the entire movie. There are some scenes that drag and get a little too repetitive before the reason for the ghostly haunting is revealed, but it’s worth the wait to find out the secret. “The Night” (directed by Kourosh Ahari) is also a rare horror movie that’s told from the perspective of Iranian immigrants who are living in the United States.

“The Night” (which Ahari co-wrote with Milad Jarmooz) takes place in Los Angeles, but Hotel Normandie (where most of the movie is set) has an eerie, timeless quality to it that makes it look like it could be in almost any Western country. The opening scenes of the film, which takes place at a casual dinner party, show that the married couple at the center of the story have a tight-knit social circle of fellow Iranian immigrants. Babak Naderi (played by Shahab Hosseini) and his wife Neda Naderi (played by Niousha Noor) are an attractive couple in their 30s who are the parents of a 1-year-old baby daughter named Shabnam (played by Leah Oganyan).

Also at the dinner party are two other couples: Babak’s brother Mohsen (played by Alain Wachnevsky); Mohsen’s wife Elahe (played by Kathreen Khavari); an emergency-room doctor named Farhad (played by Armin Amiri); and Farhad’s wife Sara (played by Gia Mora). The dinner party is being held at the house of Mohsen and Elahe. And the three couples are playing a murder mystery game.

After the game is over, the women talk amongst themselves about their children, while the men talk about their work. It seems like a perfectly normal gathering, which is the movie’s way of showing that Babak and Neda have been leading a relatively stable life until they make the fateful decision to check into a certain hotel. When it’s time to go, the couple say their goodbyes for the night.

Babak is slightly drunk, so Neda is nervous about letting him drive. Farhad says that they can stay over at his house for the night, but Babak insists that he can drive home. Why doesn’t Neda drive? It’s implied that she doesn’t have a driver’s license. While their car is heading back to their house, some typical horror movie tropes start happening.

A shadowy-looking animal (which looks like a chicken) suddenly appears in the middle of the street. Babak tries to avoid hitting the animal, but there’s a noticeable sound of something being hit by the car. When Babak gets out of the car to see what happened, there’s no sign of the animal or anything that had been hit by the car. But there is a black cat lurking nearby. This black cat will be seen more than once during the movie.

This near-miss car accident already has Babak and Neda on edge when they notice that their car’s GPS doesn’t seem to be working correctly. The malfunctioning GPS is a minor plot hole because the movie doesn’t really explain why Babak and Neda would need a GPS to find their way back home. Maybe they’re so new to the area that they still need a way to navigate the streets of Los Angeles.

At any rate, Babak and Neda agree that it’s best that they don’t risk any more possible accidents while Babak’s judgment is impaired, so they decide to stay in a hotel for the night. They check into the nearest hotel that looks good to them. It’s Hotel Normandie.

As soon as they arrive, a homeless man (played by Elester Latham) standing outside the front door approaches Babak and Neda and babbles incoherently. It unnerves the couple, but the vagrant appears to be harmless and he doesn’t ask them for money. This homeless man shows up again later in the story.

Right from the start, the hotel gives off ominous vibes. The hotel’s interior is very dark and the lobby is deserted, except for the hotel receptionist (played by George Maguire), whose name is never disclosed in the movie. The receptionist tells them that the only space available is not a hotel room but a suite, and Babak says that’s okay. The check-in process starts off as normal, but then the receptionist tells Babak and Neda about the hotel’s very unusual policy for guests.

Guests cannot leave the hotel at night, unless they ask the receptionist on duty for the key to open the front door, which is locked from the inside at night. The receptionist tells Babak and Neda that under no circumstances can they open the front door on their own at night. This warning would be enough to set off red flags to most other people, but maybe Neda and Babak are just too exhausted to care. Instead of finding a less restrictive hotel, they decide to check into Hotel Normandie.

Babak and Neda are given Suite No. 414. It doesn’t take long for some unusual activity to start happening. At first, these incidents are not scary as much as they are annoying to Babak and Neda.

They hear a lot of running in the hallway and thumping noises in the room above them. When Neda opens the door, she sees a 5-year-old boy (played by Amir Ali Hosseini) standing in the hallway. The boy asks for his mother, and Neda asks the boy if he’s lost, but he runs away without saying anything more.

When Babak takes a shower, he notices that the tattoo on his left inside arm has the red marks of skin irritation. And then he gets a nosebleed. Neda has a matching tattoo, which has some significance later in the story.

Because of the noise, Babak has trouble sleeping, so he goes downstairs to the lobby with Shabnam to get some water for the baby. What kind of hotel suite doesn’t have bottled water? It’s another plot hole, or maybe it’s the movie’s way of showing how clueless Babak is that something isn’t right with this hotel.

The lobby is still deserted except for the receptionist, who asks to hold the infant. He picks up the baby and cradles it. The receptionist starts rambling to Babak, and that’s when it finally sinks in with Babak that this hotel is very creepy.

The receptionist tells Babak that that he’s witnessed a lot of tragedies, such as the 2015 terrorist attacks at the Bataclan Theatre in Paris and 2017’s Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. The receptionist also said that he was at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas in 2017 during the mass shootings. (It’s a reference to when suspected sniper Stephen Paddock committed mass murder by shooting people from his Mandalay Bay Hotel into the outdoor Route 91 Harvest concert.)

“Oh yes, I’ve seen a lot of death,” the receptionist says with crazy eyes. “But the worst is the death of a child. That’s repugnant. Sometimes, there’s no way out. It’s like quicksand: The more you struggle, the deeper you get in.”

An alarmed Babak naturally takes the baby away from the receptionist. The receptionist responds by saying, “I’m sorry if my words disturbed you. Have a peaceful night,” before walking away. Shortly afterward, Babak looks through the lobby’s glass front door and sees a woman in black standing behind him. He’s startled, but when he quickly looks behind him, the woman has disappeared. (According to the film credits, the woman in black is played by two actresses: Cara Fuqua and Boshra Haghighi.)

These bizarre encounters aren’t enough for Babak to want to check out of the hotel and go somewhere else. It’s implied that Babak thinks that he might have been hallucinating because he had been drinking alcohol. But as more strange things start happening, Babak becomes convinced that it’s not because of the alcohol he consumed earlier that night.

Babak and Neda try to complain to the front desk about the intrusive noises, but no one answers when they call. When they go downstairs in person, the receptionist is nowhere in sight. The spouses eventually call the police. A cop (played by Michael Graham) shows up to investigate and he acts as if their complaints are an unfounded nuisance. But then something happens with the cop that makes it clear once and for all that there’s something very sinister going on at this hotel.

“The Night” might get some comparisons to director Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror classic “The Shining,” because both movies are about a married couple with a young child, who are all seemingly “trapped” in a haunted hotel. The mysterious boy in the hallway is also a nod to the mysterious twin girls who appear in the hotel hallway in “The Shining.” And both movies show hints early on that the husband has some “issues” with mental stability and wanting to always in control. “The Night” is nowhere as suspenseful or impactful as “The Shining,” but at least there’s more of an explanation for why this haunting is taking place.

However, the weakest part of the plot for “The Night” (and this is usually the biggest problem with movies about people in haunted places) is it doesn’t make sense that the people under attack didn’t try to leave earlier. There’s no logical explanation for why Babak and Neda didn’t think about checking out of the hotel when things got so weird and uncomfortable for them. At least with “The Shining,” the excuse was that the hotel was in a remote area, and a blizzard made leaving the hotel nearly impossible.

The acting performances in “The Night” elevate some of the flimsier parts of the movie’s plot. Because so much of the story is focused on Babak and Neda, “The Night” relies heavily on the performances by Hosseini and Noor to make this a convincing horror story. Fortunately, they deliver with realistic emotions, even if their characters in the movie don’t show a lot of common sense.

Ahari’s direction dangles just enough mystery to keep viewers curious enough to find out why this family is being haunted. However, it would be very easy for anyone watching this movie with any distractions to get bored or lose interest. “The Night” is a movie best experienced in a room with no distractions and with the biggest screen possible.

Some viewers might find the very dark lighting in “The Night” to be effective or annoying. (It’s in contrast to “The Shining,” where some of the scariest scenes in the movie took place in brightly lit rooms.) However, “The Night” musical score by Nima Fakhrara succeeds in helping create an unsettling mood throughout the movie. The big reveal in the film is not as surprising as it is heartbreaking. And the impact that this revelation might have on viewers is what makes “The Night” a horror movie that wants people to think about issues that are larger than a ghost story.

IFC Films/IFC Midnight released “The Night” in select U.S. cinemas and on digital and VOD on January 29, 2021.