Gone in the Night (United States, 2022)July 13, 2022
There’s a reason I’m dubious about using Airbnb for renting a vacation home – it’s because I’ve seen too many horror/thrillers where a double-booking leads to a double-bonking. (Although I have heard there’s also a rom-com out there using this jumping-off point…) So the premise is clichéd but, at least for a while, the movie keeps us guessing. Unfortunately, stiff acting, an increasingly hard-to-swallow storyline, and an atrociously bad ending torpedo Eli Horowitz’s Gone in the Night, making it unworthy of even a streamed view. When the movie started, I wanted to like it. 90 minutes later, I just wanted it to end.
Gone in the Night stars Winona Ryder as Kath, a university professor who’s on a romantic getaway with her younger boyfriend (and former student), Max (John Gallagher Jr.). When the two arrive at their expected temporary abode, they are surprised to discover it’s already inhabited by the uncommunicative Al (Owen Teague) and his extroverted girlfriend, Greta (Brianne Tju). Although Al wants to be left alone, Greta invites Kath and Max to stay the night, reasoning that they can contact the owner, Nicholas (Dermot Mulroney), the next day to sort things out.
After playing a few rounds of an adult board game with the other three, a weary Kath heads to bed. When she awakens, she finds that Max and Greta are missing; a shaken, weepy Al claims they have run off together. The movie then begins jumping around in time, revealing details about a previous contact between Max, Al, and Greta, while Kath tries to move forward with her life. She meets Nicholas face-to-face; he agrees to help her in her search for the still-missing Max (and the equally elusive Greta) and the two become friends. Alas, this being a thriller, all is not as it seems to be.
In the end, Gone in the Night feels too artificial and contrived to work. The movie, co-written by director Horowitz (along with Matthew Derby) never gets us to that critical point where we buy into things in such a way that the screenplay can take liberties with logic and get away with it. The twists, although not always predictable in their specifics, are entirely expected. The ending is ridiculous in a laugh-out-loud way (this is not a good thing because the movie isn’t trying to be either a comedy or a satire).
It's a shame because things start out nicely – the cabin in the woods, intimations of kinky sex involving two couples, and the sudden disappearance of half of the occupants. Did Max and Greta run off together as Al claims or did something sinister happen? Al, after all, gives off a creepy vibe. Then there’s Nicholas, whose second-act introduction makes us wonder how he’s involved. Once Gone in the Night moves past the setup stage, it falls off a narrative cliff.
Stranger Things may have re-invigorated Winona Ryder’s career but one hopes it’s not so she can make movies like this. Part of the reason why the film doesn’t work is because Ryder is either miscast or uninvested. Her performance is flat and unemotional. Of the five primary players, the only one who leaves an impression is Brianne Tju, whose Greta is a fireball of barely controlled energy. (She’s mainly a TV actress who has had a few small roles in minor films.)
There are some movies with plot contortions and twist endings that, when viewed in retrospect, are admirable in how well the pieces fit together. Gone in the Night isn’t one of those. In real time, it seems confusing and arbitrary. For those willing to take the time to look back at the story from the end-point, those descriptors are kind.
Gone in the Night (United States, 2022)
Cast: Winona Ryder, Dermot Mulroney, John Gallagher Jr., Owen Teague, Brianne Tju
Screenplay: Eli Horowitz, Matthew Derby
Cinematography: David Bolen
Music: David Baldwin
U.S. Distributor: Vertical Entertainment