For a horror movie, “Night’s End” comes up awfully short in frights. Even the manufactured quick-cut “jolts” couldn’t alarm a toddler, even if the SHRIEK accompanying them would wake anybody.
For a film bathed in gloom, there’s little suspense or building dread about how things are and how bad they’re about to be.
As a pandemic lock-down filmmaking “exercise,” it’s only moderately effective, making use ofshut-in vlogger’s living quarters, giving us a peek at his life and the lives of others, meeting him online, chatting from their carefully Zoom curated “backdrops.”
But maybe that’s looking at Jennifer Reeder’s picture all wrong. Just over an hour into this short and slow slog, there’s “evidence” of a ghost (yawn) that gives everybody listed on the credits a chance to show us their scared-witless face — framed on a computer screen. And damned if it isn’t hilarious.
The fact that one of those faces belongs to the great Michael Shannon, sharing scenes with his real-life wife Kate Arrington, just adds to the amusement. You want to see how hard it is to pull off that look and justifiable reaction in a 15.6 inch diagonal-measure laptop screen? Watch these pros of varying talents take their best shot.
Geno Walker plays Ken Barber, a new-to-Agoraphobia guy who lost his job, his family and maybe his mind some months ago. He lives in a dark apartment in a mostly-empty older building, with rooms separated by plastic sheet doorways and the windows meticulously covered with custom-cut clips of newspapers.
He strips the labels off every food can, every one of the many Pepto bottles he keeps to mix with his morning coffee. Ken exercises, counts backward at bedtime and judges each challenge he faces as “forward progress.”
Ken does vlogs, running multiple channels in hopes of making this his unemployed supplemental income gig — “Ken Barber’s Management Tips,””Ken Barber’s Divorced Dad Tips,” “Ken Barber’s Long Life Tips.”
But he doesn’t notice when one of the stuffed birds he decorates his refuge with tumbles off a shelf behind him while making a video. Shockingly, he has an audience, and some of them notice. So does his BFF Terry (Felonious Munk).
“Maybe it’s a ghost.”
His re-married ex-wife (Arrington), on good terms despite Ken’s “breakdown,” suggests he “do some research” on the place. “Did somebody die there?”
And the next thing you know, Ken is doing that digging, reading this online weirdo’s (the ironically-named Lawrence Grimm) “ghost” book, taking suggestions and gaining attention as his videos become a cult hit.
It’s just that whatever’s there is drawing blood, hurling him off his chair, knocking on his door and reaching through the crack as he opens it. And every single incident is accompanied by a blood-curdling scream.
No, not Ken’s.
Director Reeder (“Knives and Skin”) has a movie framed in mostly close-ups — a must for maximum frights — cloaked in shadows and built around ghosts and “evidence” of their presence. But she and her editor cannot manufacture suspense in post-production and blow every single “gotcha” with cuts that don’t reveal enough to be frightening and that never build towards anything.
The cast is adequate, although Walker isn’t the most compelling lead, even taking into account the myopic conditions this was filmed under. Only Grimm seems to get the camp this could be, a supernatural “expert” who looks like Steve Buscemi and tries on his best Alan Rickman vamp while parked in front of shelves covered in lit candles for his Zoom shot.
Whatever “Night’s End” didn’t do for me, that one big unintentional cast-wide-gasp laugh at about an hour in was the best I’ve had in months, so thanks for that.
Rating: unrated, violet imagery, profanity
Cast: Geno Walker, Felonious Munk, Kate Arrington, Lawrence Grimm, Daniel Kyri and Michael Shannon.
Credits: Directed by Jennifer Reeder, scripted by Brett Neveu. A Shudder release.
Running time: 1:22