August 15, 2022
by Carla Hay
Directed by Eli Horowitz
Culture Representation: Taking place in Sonoma County, California, the dramatic film “Gone in the Night” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Asians and one African American) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: A woman’s boyfriend abruptly disappears after they’ve rented a vacation cabin in a remote wooded area, and she tries to solve the mystery of what happened to him.
Culture Audience: “Gone in the Night” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Winona Ryder and don’t mind watching a dull, convoluted and insipid mystery.
“Gone in the Night” is supposed to be a mystery thriller. But the only baffling mystery is how anyone involved in this tepid and messy dud of a movie thought that it was worth getting made. Winona Ryder fans, you’ve been warned. “Gone in the Night” is one of the worst movies she’s ever done. Not only is Ryder’s talent completely misused and squandered in this wasteland of a film, but all of the cast members are also stuck portraying hollow characters in a sluggish story with a moronic ending.
Directed by Eli Horowitz (who co-wrote the terrible “Gone in the Night” screenplay with Matthew Derby), “Gone in the Night” (originally titled “The Cow”) had its world premiere at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas. The change in the movie’s title is the only improvement made to this creatively bankrupt slog of a film, which has barely enough of a story to fill a short film. The reason why the original title was “The Cow” is explained in the last 15 minutes of the movie.
“Gone in the Night” is not a horror movie, although it might try to fool people that it is if you’ve seen some of the movie’s publicity images of Ryder in character, looking terrified with blood spatter on her face. The first third of the film takes place in that constant horror cliché: a house in an isolated wooded area. But don’t expect anything scary to happen in this cabin in the woods.
The monotony of “Gone in the Night” begins with an unmarried couple driving at night to said cabin in the woods, which is located in an unnamed city in Sonoma County, California. (“Gone in the Night” was filmed on location in Sonoma County.) Kath (played by Ryder) is introverted and cautious. Max (played by John Gallagher Jr.) is extroverted and a risk-taker. Their contrasting personalities are on display when they encounter a problem after arriving during the night at their rental cabin, which they got through an unnamed service that sounds like Airbnb.
Kath and Max find out that another couple got booked for the same cabin at the same time. And neither couple wants to leave. At first, Kath wants to leave, since she’s the only one in this couple who has a driver’s license. But then, Kath changes her mind because Max wants to stay, and Kath doesn’t want to drive at night.
The other couple at this cabin are Al (played by Owen Teague) and Greta (played by Brianne Tju), who are both in their 20s. Kath is in her early 50s, while Max is in his late 30s. Kath and Max have been dating each other for about one year, which is the same period of time that Al and Greta have been a couple. It’s mentioned later in the story that Kath (a continuing education teacher) met Max when he was a student in her hydroponics class.
Right from the beginning, it’s obvious that something is off-kilter about Al and Greta, who both wear matching green rain ponchos. Al is a little hostile about the booking mixup, but Greta convinces Al it would be okay to let Kath and Max temporarily stay in a spare room for the night. This is the part of the movie where things could get intriguing. Instead, “Gone in the Night” fizzles and never recovers.
“Gone in the Night” is so shoddily written, not much else is revealed about these two couples during the time that they spend together and have boring conversations. At one point, it’s mentioned that Al and Greta are in an unconventional relationship. Kath mentions that she tried being married once but she didn’t like it. The two couples find a board game called Pillow Talkers, which is supposed to encourage intimacy. Players of the game read cards that dare them to do something semi-erotic.
All it results in is a not-very-interesting scene where a card is read saying, “The elbow is an erogenous zone. Prove it.” And then, Greta licks and kisses Max’s elbow. Kath and Al watch with some discomfort, as Greta and Max mildly flirt and laugh with each other for the rest of the game. Kath eventually has enough and announces that she’s going to go to sleep.
The next day, Kath finds a distressed-looking Al in the woods. Al tells Kath, “They’re gone. Your fucking dude was groping my girlfriend … And they ran off.” And this is where “Gone in the Night” slides further into idiocy. Instead of looking for Max to find out for herself what’s going on with him, Kath goes back to the cabin and assumes that Max’s disappearance is his way of dumping her. She’s very nonchalant (and ignorant) about not caring to find out if what Al said is true.
Instead of finding out what happened, Kath just goes home and complains to her friend Laurel (played by Yvonne Senat Jones) that she’s better off without Max. “It felt like effort,” Kath says of dating Max. “I’m done with effort.” That also describes the “Gone in the Night” filmmakers’ attitude toward crafting a good story for this movie.
After not hearing from Max for a number of days, Kath finally gets an inkling that maybe something is really wrong with Max’s disappearance. Instead of using common sense and contacting Max’s family members and/or friends to find out where he is, Kath calls the owner of the cabin—57-year-old Nicholas Levi Barlow (played by Dermot Mulroney—to try and find out Greta’s address. It’s a dimwitted decision because there’s no guarantee that Max is with Greta at Greta’s address.
Kath’s lie is that Greta left a book behind in the cabin, and Kath wants to return the book to Greta. Its a badly thought-out-fabrication because Nicholas says he doesn’t want to violate Greta’s privacy by giving out her home address, so he offers to give the book to Greta if Kath will give the book to him. Caught in this lie, Kath then admits she wants Greta’s address because she heard that Greta and Max ran off together.
The movie gets even more ludicrous when Nicholas offers to help Kath play detective to find Greta and Max. The rest of “Gone in the Night” consists of embarrassingly dimwitted and tedious scenes of Nicholas and Kath snooping around and acting like stalkers until the full truth is revealed of what happened to Max and Greta. During this investigation, Nicholas crosses paths with a former business partner named Ramon (played by Alain Uy), who worked with Nicholas in a biotech start-up company.
There’s nothing remarkable about anything in “Gone in the Night,” which drags on and on until the movie’s witless ending. The last 15 minutes of the movie give the impression that screenwriters Horowitz and Derby weren’t quite sure how to end the story and rushed through some sloppy thoughts because they wanted to finish the screenplay by a certain time. All of the cast members look like they’re going through the motions. The only motions that viewers will feel compelled to take while watching “Gone in the Night” are falling asleep, or finding ways to endure watching this slow-moving train wreck until the bitter end.
Vertical Entertainment released “Gone in the Night” in select U.S. cinemas on July 15, 2022. The movie was released on digital and VOD on August 2, 2022.