It’s a bummer to have to report that Gone in the Night is a major disappointment. You would think a movie directed by Eli Horowitz, starring Winona Ryder, Owen Teague and John Ghallager Jr, and premiering in the midnight section at SXSW, would be a lock for a good time at the movies. But none of these elements come together in a way that makes sense.
Ryder has certainly proved her ability to wow audiences when she’s in the right project. But though she’s terrific in the part here, the idea of using her as a troubled and self-conscious woman who is concerned about her looks is not exactly a good one. I mean, she looks like Winona Ryder. The same can be said for Ghallager, hardly a veteran actor but one who displayed real depth in 10 Cloverfield Lane. His role as the distant boyfriend is so convoluted as to be unenjoyable, and it’s no fun to see him waste his talents on a crummy part. As for director Horowitz (Homecoming), he’s churned out a messy screenplay that takes more twists and turns than a Colorado river, and has none of the thrills that would make such a trip worth it.
The combination of all these elements is a horror flick that seems like a no-brainer but is really just a horror flick with no brains. From the moment we lay eyes on Kath (Ryder), we can tell something is off with her and the script, which has the gal to cast Ryder as a “woman past her prime.” Kath is a middle-aged botanist who enjoys drinking with her friends, while her partner, Max (Ghallager), enjoys going to rock concerts with his buddies. A weekend vacation is supposed to do them some good; however, things take a turn once they get to the cabin.
Once they arrive, they find another car parked in the driveway. Before anyone can say “double booking,” a guy named Al (Teauge) walks out of the shadows, tells them to F-off, and then spits an orange peel into Kath’s face. While most people would leave when a guy spits an orange peel into their face, these are horror movie characters, so the couple decides to stick around when Al’s girlfriend asks them to spend the night. The next morning, Kath wakes up to an empty house. She walks into the forest where a drunken Al tells her that Max ran off with his girlfriend, probably because she was a younger option. Since Khat struggles with her age, she needs to find out if Max really left because of her seniority and reaches out to cabin owner Nicholas (Dermot Mulroney) for help.
The whole thing is a wild concept, hinging on the plausibility of every character’s motivations, which are all a bit flimsy. Why would Max want to leave Kath? And why would Nicholas want to go on a trip to find him? The audience is asked to go along with these questions so the story can be folded around them. The two eventually go on the prowl, of course, but they end up spending more time bonding with each other than they do in perilous situations…that is until the twists start coming.
The tone of Gone In The Night, which veers from slow to tense to comedic to bonkers, never gels into place. Certain characters are scrapped for plot twists and story reveals that are so wild they don’t make any sense, though Ryder certainly has fun with them, delivering an increasingly unhinged performance against Mulroney, who mutters quietly. Though the cast members suggest prestige, this is really just a Lifetime movie dressed up in a suit, and the sooner audiences realize that the better, because anyone with high expectations will be disappointed from the very first frame. 2.5/5