A solid mystery thriller with an unexpected twist of horror.
Gone in the Night is a creepy little mystery-thriller wrapping up a brief theatrical run before heading to home video, which is really too bad because the film deserves a little more time on the big screen. Though modest in scope, the visual execution is sharp, and the widescreen cinematography loads the screen with sinister atmosphere.
The script is cleverly structured, setting up a situation that immediately captures attention and then using flashbacks to revise our perception of that situation while raising new questions. The answers to those questions eventually lead in an unexpected (though subtly foreshadowed) direction, pushing the film into territory that, if not outright horror, is certainly horror-adjacent. Fortunately, director Eli Horowitz and cowriter Matthew Derby deftly manage the transition, carefully laying groundwork the sinister revelation. They walk a fine line, delivering enough to satisfy horror fans without alienating viewers the mystery storyline.
Things get off to a rocky start when Kath (Winona Ryder) and Max (John Gallagher Jr), after a long drive for a weekend by themselves, find their cabin double-booked by a slightly creepy couple, Al (Owen Teague) and Greta (Brianne Tju). Max and Greta take an interest in each other, prompting Kath to retire early. When she awakens the next morning, she finds Al crying that Max and Greta have taken off together.
Rocked by this unexpected development, Kath is willing to write Max off until a friend prompts her to track down Greta. Kath contacts the owner of the cabin, Nicholas (Dermot Mulroney), who offers to join her on a stakeout, leading to a brief confrontation with Greta, who apologizes for stealing Al. However, things are not as simple as Greta makes out: a series of flashbacks cast new light on the encounter at the cabin, suggesting something more sinister is at work….
Where all this leads is unexpected (unless you’re paying very close attention), but the film scores a major coup by serving up a surprising third-act conclusion that is suspenseful, horrible, and completely satisfying – putting its protagonist through the ringer viscerally, emotionally, and even morally. It’s not a typical “rescue the victim and live happily ever after” ending, but it does deliver what one character wants – just not in the way that was anticipated.
Though structured as a mystery-thriller, Gone in the Night works as a drama about Kath’s journey. At the beginning, she is ambivalent about her relationship with Al, a younger man whose challenges to be more adventurous push her out of her comfort zone. Later, she bonds with Nicholas, an older man who takes life more at her speed, even though he seems to be living under a time limit (his father died young from a genetically inherited disease). The film seems to be playing with the idea that an older woman cannot keep up with a younger man, but things work fine when the age difference is reversed.
Gone in the Night is not making as deep a statement about female aging as She Will, but it does satirizes sexist attitude about the subject – a point emphasized by casting Ryder as a woman perceived as past her prime even even though she still looks great, just not not twenty. Even Nicholas, nearly a decade her senior, with the clock running out on him, says “Look at you” when trying to make a case for the benefit of extended longevity.
Ryder is engaging in the role, capturing the character’s own self doubts but also making Kath compelling even though she’s not a clearly motivated protagonist by the standards of the genre: Kath may be curious about Greta, but she is not out to rescue Al or get him back; in fact, she insists she would be fine without him – alone with her books and no companion but “fucking silence.” (The film’s sly joke is that she gets her wish, though not in a way one might expect.)
The other major players also deliver solid performances, making their morally compromised or duplicitous characters feel believably motivated even when doing things they know are wrong. Tju stands out from the rest as the one with no hesitation (at least until her conspirators consider double crossing her, provoking a pricelessly contemptuous “Really?” from her lips – she can’t believe they have the nerve, but the very thought still pisses her off).
In an era dominated expensive studio blockbusters, Gone in the Night proves that a modestly budgeted indie film can still deliver the goods. It satisfies all its hybrid genre requirements (mystery, suspense, horror), but also delivers a clever spin on the missing-person scenario as it plays out with a woman in the lead. Once upon a time, Kath would have taken a backseat while a man solved the mystery. More recently she would rescue him herself. Now, along comes a film suggesting she may be better off without him.
Hollywood Gothique's rating of Gone in the Night
Gone in the Night is a solid mystery-thriller that veers into horror territory while touching on the subject of how badly a middle-aged woman needs to find the younger man who left her for another woman. The narrative structure is clever, dropping hints without ruining the surprises, and the visual execution holds attention during the quieter moments that gradually build to a grim but satisfying climax.
Gone in the Night (originally titled The Cow, 2022). Vertical Pictures. Director: Eli Horowitz. Writers: Matthew Derby, Eli Horowitz. Cast: Winona Ryder, John Gallagher Jr, Owen Teague, Brianne Tju, Dermot Mulroney. Rated R. 90m. U.S. Theatrical Release (limited engagements): July 15.