Do you ever just want the night to end, but the night’s end seems to never come? This is the epitome of Jennifer Reeder’s apt Night’s End. The Knives and Skin director, with writer Brett Neveu, craft a film about one man’s horrific night. But what is, at first, a frightening, introspective, and isolated ghost story, takes an unfortunate nose dive. The audience is suddenly content and relieved at the night’s end, more so than even the protagonist.
A horror film needs to nail the atmosphere, and Reeder nails that spookiness immediately as she directs Christopher Rejano’s camera to move slowly towards a door. Like a spirit floating just above the ground and lingering outside in the hopes of being let in. It creaks as it opens into a dimly lit, newly occupied apartment. The unemployed divorced father who lives there, Ken (Geno Walker), is found counting down from 10. Then, he drinks and exercises. Repeat. His unchanging routine is a point of focus and is reminiscent of Jeanne Dielman, where every slight change in the titular housewife’s routine is met with discomfort. Ken, like Jeanne, has a routine that unravels as the film continues. Of course, not focused on the same length and repetitive level as Akerman’s masterwork, but it's an excellent way to provide a window into a character’s psyche.
Ken has many layers to his character and it’s clear Neveu took time to fully craft him instead of just focusing on the spooks. A once struggling alcoholic, he moved to a new town for a fresh start. This fresh start has so far found him to be a recluse. The audience never sees him step further from his entrance, so job prospects at this point seem unlikely. Instead, he makes self-help videos, hoping to make it big on YouTube for sustainable ad revenue. His friend Terry (Felonious Munk), Ken’s ex-wife (Kate Arrington), and her new hubby (Michael Shannon) spend time talking to him on video chat, and his isolation concerns them. His life is moving backward instead of forward, but something Terry witnesses in one of Ken’s videos does send his life in a direction he couldn’t have expected.
Those in Ken’s life raise suspicions that he may not be living in solitude after all. As he begins to unravel his home’s dark past, his countdowns from 10 soon aren’t enough to ease his anxiety and fear. The paranormal activity he begins to experience keeps escalating, and the film presents jump scares and apparitions of genuine fright that set you on the edge of your seat. Seeking advice from a paranormal researcher (Lawrence Grimm), Ken attempts to exorcise whatever is in his home. But just as his situation goes from bad to worse, the film itself hits a nosedive.
Night’s End is presented in a unique way. Surely under COVID restraints, having a haunting take place in such an isolated environment creates a more daunting experience because you can’t find an escape for the character – and neither can they. However, when the film turns into a Zoom-style meeting ala Shudder’s Host, it loses all of its momentum leaning into the absurd. The differences between Host and Night’s End are the performances and manifestation of the haunting. Night’s End contains disorientating visuals that position Ken in this plane between realms as Walker portrays with skill the all-consuming anxiety his character is facing. The same skill can’t be said for the rest of the performers, especially Grimm's narration-style tone of line delivery. The VFX are bad, too. The sudden shift to events happening on Zoom causes the film to lose its focus and it becomes difficult to take Ken’s situation seriously. It also detracts from the conflict he was experiencing when he was alone and the effect that created.
Night’s End was incredibly promising but sadly needed to summon the ghost of what it could have been. Haunted by past works and wanting to try something different doesn’t always work, just as fresh starts don’t mean escaping the haunting effects of our past.
Movie Score: 2.5/5