Originally titled The Coven, an early 2022 horror release, The Long Night, missed out on a theatrical release. Promising a mix of supernatural horror with an apocalyptic cult, The Long Night marks the return of Scout Taylor-Compton to horror alongside veteran character actors Jeff Fahey and Deborah Kara Unger. Cults rarely go out of style for solids scares in the horror genre, and a bit of witchcraft may add a bit of a twist. To date, critics have been lukewarm on this one with reviews trending in the wrong direction.
For years Grace Covington has searched for information about her birth parents – her identity. One phone brings Grace and her boyfriend, Jack, from New York to an old southern plantation house. But when they arrive, her contact is nowhere to be found. And as the sun sets, Grace and Jack discover a group of masked cultists surrounding the house. Trapped with no help, the couple must fight to survive the cult’s apocalyptic vision.
The Long Night Casts a Bit of Atmosphere, But Not Much Else
Not much about The Long Night breaks new ground. From its early going director Rich Ragsdale and writers Robert Sheppe and Mark Young tap into the familiar territory of death cult movies. As the story progresses, The Long Night occasionally feels reminiscent of the much better The Void. While it doesn’t tread into cosmic horror, the image of creepy masked cultists – apocalyptic prophecies on their mind – trapping people inside a building has been done. And this brings us to The Long Night’s biggest problem – it recycles a few tropes that have worn themselves thin. Since You’re Next released in 2011, creepy animal masks and serial killer animal skulls are now horror tropes along the lines of the mirror jump scare.
And this brings us to the Long Night’s biggest problem – it recycles a few tropes that have worn themselves thing.
Where The Long Night finds its footing is with a consistent feeling of dread and effective atmosphere. If the horror imagery familiar, Ragsdale still knows how to get the most of his masked cultists. A few jump scares hit their spots, while others feel telegraphed. Yet as the movie propels into its final act, the train comes a bit off of the rails. Much of the atmosphere gives way to more explicit violence, which does add a sense of urgency. Nonetheless, Sheppe and Young’s story becomes increasingly convoluted as more supernatural elements find their way into the thriller. Moreover, the mix of flashbacks, visions, and exposition-heavy dialogue unnecessarily weigh things down. As a result, The Long Night’s ending doesn’t have quite the impact it would otherwise.
The Long Night Has Decent Performances, Missing a Compelling Villain
Like its production values, all of the performances exceed expectations. No, the performances aren’t the problem. Not surprisingly, horror veteran Scout Taylor-Compton (Halloween, Feral) turns in a convincing, sympathetic performance. In fact, Taylor-Compton’s ‘Grace Covington’ is one of The Long Night’s strengths. Even amidst an increasingly wild story, Taylor-Compton grounds things as much as possible. At the very least, she gives the movie a character with whom to identify. If there’s a problem, it’s the thinly written – and often unlikable – characters. Case in point, Nolan Gerard Funk – who is quite good in his performance – is thoroughly unlikeable. Young and Sheppe write Gerard Funk’s ‘Jack’ as a spoiled ‘dude bro’ – hardly someone you’re likely to root for in a movie.
As the story moves forward, however, we’re missing a compelling villain …
Though Jeff Lahey (The Lawnmower Man, Body Parts) and Deborah Kara Unger (Silent Hill) are credited amongst the cast, their roles don’t amount to much more than extended cameo appearances. But a bigger problem is the movie’s lack of a clear villain. Early on, The Long Night benefits from its creepy imagery in spite of strong feeling of déjà vu. As the story moves forward, however, we’re missing a compelling villain – a rationale or vision directing the nightmare experienced by Grace and Jack. When Ragsdale finally unmasks his ‘Master’, we’re deep into the climax. A lack of discernible personality and a prophecy that requires a late exposition dump undercuts any shock from the reveal.
The Long Night Has Enough Creepy Atmosphere to Justify Watching
Without a doubt, The Long Night is a very hit and miss movie. We’ve seen many of these ideas in good movies before – Ragsdale et al aren’t re-inventing the wheel here. And by the movie’s final act, it feels like The Long Night throws everything but the kitchen sink at the screen. The results often feel convoluted from a storytelling perspective. Still there’s a creepy atmosphere that holds steady from start to finish. Scout-Compton also turns in a good performance alongside some unnerving visuals – even if they’re familiar. Though it won’t make much of a long-term impact, The Long Night is a watchable thriller.