Review: ‘Gone in the Night’ (2022), starring Winona Ryder

August 15, 2022

by Carla Hay

John Gallagher Jr. and Winona Ryder in “Gone in the Night” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Gone in the Night” (2022)

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.

Dermot Mulroney in “Gone in the Night” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“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.

Review: ‘Montana Story,’ starring Haley Lu Richardson and Owen Teague

September 17, 2021

by Carla Hay

Haley Lu Richardson and Owen Teague in “Montana Story” (Photo courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival)

“Montana Story”

Directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel

Culture Representation: Taking place in Montana’s Paradise Valley, the drama “Montana Story” features a cast of white and Native American characters (with one black person) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: An estranged brother and sister have a tension-filled reunion after their father is in a coma, and the two siblings end up confronting some dark family secrets.

Culture Audience: “Montana Story” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in well-acted and realistically crafted dramas about dysfunctional families.

Owen Teague and Haley Lu Richardson in “Montana Story” (Photo courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival)

“Montana Story” shows in nuanced and heartbreaking ways how a rift in a family can come not just from damaging words and actions but also by what’s been left unsaid. It’s an emotionally genuine and contemplative story of a tense family reunion between a brother and a sister who have not seen and spoken to each other in seven years. The movie also touches on issues of euthanasia, controversies over pipelines running through Native American land, and the daily struggles of working-class people who are a few paychecks away from financial ruin. “Montana Story”—written and directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel—had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.

The movie unfolds in layers to reveal the reasons why siblings Cal (played by Owen Teague) and Erin (played by Haley Lu Richardson) have been estranged for seven years. The full story of why Cal and Erin became alienated from each other comes out about halfway through the film. Cal and Erin have both reunited at the Montana ranch of their widowed attorney father Wade (played by Rob Story), who has been in a coma from a stroke and is not expected to recover. Although the movie does not name any cities where the story takes place, “Montana Story” was filmed on location in Montana’s Paradise Valley, in the cities of Bozeman, Livingston and Ringling. The movie’s cinematography (by Giles Nuttgens) of this Montana outdoor scenery is suitably breathtaking.

The ranch where Wade is bedridden in a coma is the same home where Cal and Erin grew up. Cal, who is 22, is a quiet and introverted bachelor who lives in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He’s an aspiring civil engineer who currently works for Cheyenne’s city planning department. Cal arrives at the family home first by driving there in his own car. Cal doesn’t know it yet, but Erin is about to show up for a surprise visit.

Erin, who is 25, is a feisty and stubborn bachelorette who lives in New York’s Hudson Valley. She works as a cook at a farm-to-table restaurant, and she is deeply concerned about environmental issues. Erin has traveled by airplane to go to Montana and doesn’t have a rental car. She uses a rideshare service to go to and from the airport.

It’s mentioned later in the story that Cal and Erin have two different mothers, who are both deceased. These two mothers are not shown in flashbacks but are briefly described in the movie through conversations. Erin’s mother Libby, who was Wade’s wife, died when she gave birth to Erin. Libby is described as the greatest love of Wade’s life.

Cal’s mother Connie was the nanny who took care of Erin after Libby died. Connie, who died in a car accident two years ago, is described as someone who knew that Wade didn’t love her as much as he loved Libby, but Connie loved Wade anyway. Connie and Wade never married each other, but they lived together and raised Erin and Cal.

Before Erin shows up for her surprise visit, Cal braces himself for some of the difficult but inevitable experiences of a family member who has to prepare for a loved one to die. When Cal goes inside the home, he doesn’t immediately go into the bedroom where Wade is in a coma, because it will be the first time that Cal will see his father in this condition. Instead, Cal goes into his childhood bedroom, which has been kept exactly the way he left it when he moved out of the family home to go to college in Wyoming. The way he looks around the room is the way someone might look at a mausoleum filled with long-buried memories.

When Cal does go into the room to see his father (who is hooked up to a ventilating machine), the expression on Cal’s face shows a range of emotions. It’s the look of someone who’s had a love/hate relationship with a parent and doesn’t quite know how to process that this parent is unable to communicate. How do you reconcile with someone who’s in a coma?

There are two people who have been taking care of the day-to-day duties of the household. The part-time housekeeper Valentina (played by Kimberly Guerrero) has been a longtime employee of the family. Valentina has known Erin and Cal since they were children. Wade’s home care aide, who is being paid for by state government assistance, is a Kenyan immigrant named Ace (played by Gilbert Owuor). Cal and Ace meet for the first time when Cal comes home to visit Wade, who isn’t expected to live much longer.

Valentina and Ace are very kind and compassionate. Ace tells Cal that although Wade is in a coma and cannot communicate, Wade’s brain is still functioning. It’s this piece of information that probably motivates Cal to do something in one of the more emotionally powerful scenes in the movie.

Wade used to be a financially successful attorney. But something happened (some of the details are revealed but not all) that resulted in him filing for bankruptcy before he had a stroke. It’s why all of his medical bills are being paid for by government benefits and why the family ranch (which is in Wade’s name) is going to be sold after Wade dies. Wade apparently has no other immediate relatives besides his two children.

Cal has to meet with an attorney named Don (played by played by John Ludin) to gets these matters sorted. Don tells Wade that the sale of the ranch should be enough to pay for Wade’s medical bills that would have to be paid by any heirs. Don advises Cal to sell Wade’s car, since the car is no longer of any use to Wade.

The ranch used to be thriving and had several animals, including horses. There are still a few remaining animals, such as chickens, but now there is only one horse on the property: a 25-year-old black stallion named Mr. T. Because of Mr. T’s advanced age and arthritis, it’s unlikely that anyone will buy the horse, so Cal takes Don’s advice to arrange for Mr. T to get euthanized.

When Erin arrives at the ranch, Cal is in complete shock. It’s revealed that Erin had run away from home at age 18 and cut off contact with all of her family members. Cal had tried to get in touch with her, but she eventually changed her phone number and never told anyone in her family where she was.

When she sees Cal again all these years later, Erin is cold and abrupt. She explains the only reason why she’s there is to see their father one last time before he dies. How did Erin find out about Wade being in a coma? Cal asks this question and Erin tells him. (The answer won’t be revealed in this review.)

As the two siblings spend time together in an already stressful situation, long-simmering resentments come to the surface. Viewers will notice that Erin and Cal have different ways of dealing with problems. Erin is more outspoken and determined to do what she thinks is right, even if it makes other people uncomfortable. Cal is more willing to compromise and is more likey to be a people pleaser.

It’s why Erin and Cal end up clashing over what to do about Mr. T, the family’s longtime horse. Erin is livid that Cal made plans to put down Mr. T. She’s so angry about it that she insists that she’s going to buy a truck and horse trailer and drive Mr. T all the way back to New York state with her. Of course, Erin and Cal’s arguments about the horse are just symptoms of a larger problems and traumatic family secrets, which the siblings eventually have to confront if they have a chance of healing their fractured relationship.

Although “Montana Story” is centered on Erin and Cal, the movie also brings up issues experienced by the supporting characters who are feeling the ripple effects of what will happen to them after Wade dies. Valentina has another part-time job at a retail store, which has just reduced her work hours. Based on worried conversations that Valentina has, she’s in danger of being financially ruined if she doesn’t have another job lined up in time after Wade dies.

And even though Ace is being paid by the state, he too is in a precarious financial situation because it’s unknown where he will find his next home care job. In a conversation that Ace has with Cal, Ace opens up about needing a steady job because he sends some of his income back to Kenya to help his family. It’s in these quiet moments that the movie shows how lives of working-class “gig” employees are often dangerously close to sinking them into poverty under unfortunate circumstances.

“Montana Story” also includes a brief snippet of a newscast reporting that a federal judge ordered the shutdown of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The newscast mentions that this shutdown is a victory for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which opposed the pipeline because of concerns that the pipeline would cause pollution in the water and land where many of the tribe members live. It just so happens that Vivian and her family are part of this tribe, so the pipeline is another added stress in her life.

Vivian has an adult son named Joey (played by Asivak Koostachin), who’s about the same age as Erin. Because of Valentina, Joey has known Erin and Cal for several years. Joey used to work at the ranch and now works part-time for a tow truck company, but he’s also hurting for money. Joey and Cal are happy to see each other. Joey is disappointed to hear that the ranch will be sold, but he understands why the decision was made.

Joey is also delighted to see Erin because it’s obvious that he’s had a longtime crush on her, but the feeling isn’t mutual. Erin has put Joey in the “friend zone,” which he has accepted, but his hopeful demeanor is of someone who still thinks there’s a small chance that Erin might change her mind. Another tribe member named Mukki (played by Eugene Brave Rock) ends up playing an important role in Erin’s plans for Mr. T.

“Montana Story” isn’t an action-packed movie. It moves along at a pace that’s entirely realistic for rural and isolated areas. And this isn’t a melodramatic and talkative movie where people get into arguments every 10 minutes. What makes “Montana Story” better than the average family drama is how it uses moments of silence to depict unspoken hurt and regrets.

For example, there’s a scene where Cal and Erin are driving somewhere in Cal’s car. He fills her in on what his life has been like since they last saw each other. Cal seems very eager to share this information, and there’s a sense that he wants Erin’s approval. But she doesn’t say anything in response to finding out these major updates in his life. Her lack of response seems to be partly out of spite and partly because she doesn’t really know what to say. The look on Cal’s face is of someone who is crushed by his sister’s aloofness.

And that’s why Richardson and Teague are so perfectly cast for this movie, which has just the right tone and direction from writer/directors McGehee and Siegel. There are so many moments in “Montana Story” where Richardson and Teague convey emotions (and repression of emotions) with their facial expressions and body language that other actors wouldn’t be able to convey, even if they had all these feelings spelled out for them in articulate lines of dialogue. Without the admirable performances of Richardson and Teague, “Montana Story” would not be as emotionally resonant as it is.

“Montana Story” could be described as understated or low-key, compared to other dramas about family members dealing with grudges and estrangement. In addition to the siblings’ issues with each other, Cal and Erin had a very difficult relationship with their father. Those hard feelings don’t automatically disappear when someone is close to death. It’s an uncomfortable truth that “Montana Story” shows in various shades and details that don’t have a single moment of “only in a movie” phoniness.

UPDATE: Bleecker Street will release “Montana Story” in select U.S. cinemas on May 13, 2022. Sony Pictures Entertainment’s Stage 6 will release the movie outside of North America, on a date to be announced.

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