Let’s be honest with ourselves: how much does it take to get us to watch a new horror movie? Say a couple goes on vacation in the woods and we’re halfway there. Done deal. Say literally anything else following that and we’ll find any excuse to watch it. Try us.
The Long Night tries us. A young couple go into the woods. That’s what young couples do. The anything else part is rather silly. Grace (Scout Taylor-Compton of Robert Zombie’s Halloween fame) drags her loudmouth partner (Nolan Gerard Funk, love when the leads both have great names) into the woods because she’s received a mysterious phone call that may answer some questions about her mysterious past.
Wouldn’t you know it all goes awry upon arrival: the couple’s phones glitch and short circuit (movies haven’t found a convincing way to make malfunctioning cell phones creepier than cell phones already are), and worse, an insistent cult surrounds the house and won’t let them leave! They seem to derive mystical powers from the imminent equinox, a coven of ritualistic evil somehow tied to this land and the history of the American South, which is also the source of Grace’s unknown roots, perhaps.
It’s enough. Again, it doesn’t take much. Give us the simple horror premise, the couple in despair, the technological breakdown, and a cult doing nonsense rituals in the woods, and that’s my ticket accounted for every time, and probably yours if you’re still here.
Concisely drawn into short chapters, the divisions are superfluous. The audience would understand the breaks in time, over the protracted long night, if the camera just cut to another scene. It’s simply not that deep. Scout Taylor-Compton works overtime to sell her peril and the emotions and holds the project up long enough to get to its weirder ideas.
The floating camera is liable to spin and detach from its images. The focus is otherwise steady but shot darkly and murky in its saturation. Finally, it gets to some weirder ideas in the last third, when the ordinary setup starts to drag. When the planets have aligned an ancient ritual is undertaken. Trapped for 400 years on this land, the Serpent must now be released, to cleanse the land and suck the blood from the wicked. Death cults are annoying; don’t get involved.
If the setup is too generic then the payoff is generically amusing. It’s too rudimentary to get upset. Horror formulas exist because they work in intrinsic and easy ways. We’ll watch anything and that means the good folks making horror movies get to make anything. We’ve become our own best and worst advocates. Praise the middle of the road horror picture. Because it’s worth getting a whole mess of movies every year where just one new thing is tried and the rest is reliable in its basic fortitude and genre know-how.