Horror fans know the trope well, that moment when everybody in the story of some supernatural threat or another gets on the same page.
One character is seeing things, hearing things, perceiving a threat. And others, or in a simpler tale, the other half of the couple, has her or his doubts.
“Have you gone CRAZY?”
And then they both see the same thing and the doubter is convinced.
That moment provides the best scene in “The Night,” the moody new feature from Kourosh Ahari (“The Yellow Wallpaper”). It takes a long time to get here, and the “haunted hotel” mood Ahari’s setting up isn’t nearly as chilling as ought to be for a horror movie.
But the jolt of something extraordinary convinces the “Am I still drunk?” husband and his “Are you still drunk?” wife they’re in the middle of something together which they can’t explain or escape on their own, and calling 911 isn’t going to help.
Husband Babak (Shahab Hosseini) had too much to drink, refused to let wife Neda (Niousha Jafarian) and gets them lost on the way home from a Los Angeles dinner party with fellow Iranian expats.
She didn’t see the GPS going wonky. She’s trying to keep their infant asleep, but alarmed at whatever he just ran over. And he’s resigned to just giving up, checking into the hotel they’ve stopped next to and sorting their location and lives out in the morning.
They kept it together at the party, although he was complaining about her to his friends and she expressed her doubts to hers. Now, after years apart (he moved to the US first) they have a baby girl and new lives and the adjustment isn’t the easiest.
The creepy, muttering homeless guy (Elester Latham) sleeping on the old hotel’s stoop should have given them a clue. The night clerk (George Maguire) doesn’t. At first.
But as the bumps through the ceiling wake each up in turn, as strange children keep knocking on the door, as Neda takes the baby downstairs to quiet her, and then Babak does the same — and neither remembers the other doing this — they fret about “stalkers” and wonder what is going on.
The clues? Their Americanized lives include his-and-hers tattoos, and “secrets.” And that desk clerk starts talking about massacres, Puerto Rican hurricanes, Bobby Kennedy’s assassination and “losing a child” might be something more sinister than merely “tactless.”
And the visions — of those children, of a bloody body in the tub — rattle each in turn and force them and the viewer to wrestle with exactly what’s going on here.
The leads are convincing, if somewhat understated. Neither the performances nor the somewhat sedate editing raise the suspense and get across the panic and paranoia that this situation would engender in most of us.
As cryptic as this tale can be, we need a little something to grab hold of to unravel it. Unfortunately, Ahari withholds that for too long, and then over-explains everything once he lets go of the mystery.
“The Night” is chilly, but frustrating in the unfolding and simplistic spoon-feeding in its resolution. A couple of decent jolts and a lot of mild nerve-rattlings is all this watered down “Shining” can manage.
MPA Rating: unrated, violence, smoking, alcohol
Cast: Shahab Hosseini, Niousha Jafarian and George Maguire
Credits: Directed by Kourosh Ahari, script by Kourosh Ahari and Milad Jarmooz. An IFC Midnight release.
Running time: 1:42