review by Diablo Joe
"Night's End" premieres March 31 on Shudder
No film genre has taken a more beneficial advantage of the recent lockdown than horror. Isolation. Mental stress. Fear. All of these are the bread and butter of horror. And horror filmmakers are legendary for turning deficits into blessings. When we look back years from now, it will be interesting to survey how they used the situation, thematically and situationally.
"Night's End" takes an interesting tack by avoiding association with the current state of affairs. Instead of isolating its main character due to some global pandemic, it smartly uses the more timely issue of self-imposed sequestration. Following a nervous breakdown, Ken Barber moves into a new apartment. Riddled with OCD-driven daily rituals and a reticence to interact with the world outside, he lives in a bubble of his own making. Food and supplies arrive by delivery. His only human interaction is with a small group of concerned friends and family via facetime. But bizarre occurrences lead him to suspect that there is a presence in his home. Sharing these publicly online, he gains the notice of the Internet's paranormal aficionados. One of them is a well-known author on the occult who offers to aid Ken in exorcising his home, an agreement that may not be as advantageous as Ken wishes.
Director Jennifer Reeder does a solid job of keeping a single location film from getting stale and boring. As she follows Ken through the repetition of his daily routines and quirks, subtle variations smartly imply the changes in his psyche. Ken has created a structured environment for himself, and the manifestation of supernatural activity is immediately evident to him and further agitates his phobias and psychosis. What he can capture on camera and share with his YouTube followers could be easily attituded to a number of causes. As he begins to relate increasingly horrifying experiences to his friends, they worry that his mental health has taken a downward turn, something Reeder never entirely allows the audience to rule out. But we still share his terror in some very effective nightmarish scenes.
Reeder is greatly abetted by Geno Walker's performance as Ken. He never lets Ken's idiosyncrasies and quirks become anything too distracting or melodramatic. It's a grounded and wholly believable turn. Walker is an alum of NBC television's "Chicago" franchises. Much of his fellow cast, who appear almost exclusively via Ken's laptop screen, is drawn from the Windy City's acting scene. Screenwriter Brett Neveu is a fixture of the Chicago theater world, hence the inclusion of Kate Arrington as Ken's sympathetic and concerned ex-wife and Arrington's real-life spouse, the always welcome Michael Shannon, as well her current husband. As Ken's best friend, Felonious Munk adds humor and warmth. Through the actors' portrayals of their concerns for Ken, we understand how tragic this man's fall has been.
Grounded as those characters are, we get a much more colorful and eccentric crowd when it comes to the film's Internet supernatural connoisseurs. YouTube paranormal sensation "Dark Corners" and ghost blogger Lyden Knight's (Daniel Kyri and Theo Germaine) commentary during a livestream of an attempt to exorcise Ken's apartment is suitably pretentious. It's the sort of gravitas-filled melodramatic observations we're oh-so-familiar with on cable TV’s fringe-themed “reality” programs. As paranormal author and occultist Colin Albertson, Lawrence Grimm evokes the camp of Vincent Price. It’s a fun role to experience, but, along with his colleagues of the supernatural, contrasts perhaps a bit too much with Walker’s earnest portrayal of Ken. The blame for this seems more a poor directorial decision than the actors' faults.
Indeed, it is the film’s third act, where all the characters converge in the livestream, where “Night’s End” that the film begins to unravel a bit. What has been a tense and often pulse-poundingly scary film begins to take on a broader tone that perilously veers toward the silly. It’s also where the device of presenting the supporting cast solely via the Internet starts to devolve into gimmickry. They become tethered to their webcams, much like the characters in a found-footage horror are to their camcorders. It becomes a distraction that pulls the audience out of the film and blunts the movie’s conclusion considerably.
“Night’s End” is an enjoyable, often engagingly frightening twist on the haunted house trope that makes effective use of its framing situation, terrific cast, and mood for most of its runtime. Its unfortunate inability to sustain that momentum and successful tone through to its conclusion is a disappointment but not a complete disaster. As it stands, it’s definitely worth a watch but doesn’t find itself among the must-sees of this year.
This devil of a reviewer gives “Night’s End” 2.5 out of 5 imps.
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