Rich Ragsdale’s The Long Night holds the unfortunate distinction of being a movie most horror fans have seen without pressing “Play.” Even worse, it’s almost a futile act given the film’s lack of energy or desire to differentiate its out-of-towner thrills. Writers Mark Young and Robert Sheppe prove they’ve seen horror tales with big houses, tense couples and ghoulish threats a-knocking; the problem is that they offer bland renovations to its skeletal narrative beyond the barest bones. The Long Night’s understanding of horror genre fulfillment is nonexistent, no more satisfying than rice cakes with a little red food coloring splashed on to mimic spooky decorations.
Grace Covington (Scout Taylor-Compton) and her partner Jack Cabot (Nolan Gerard Funk) are on a mission to locate Grace’s estranged parents. These Manhattan slicksters travel from New York City to a southern plantation house where they’ll stay. Upon the first night’s fall, things get weird when a cult in black robes and animal masks appears outside. Nobody’s moving; they just stare inside at Grace and Jack. There’s your horror.
The Long Night is a play in multiple acts; subheadings appear like “The Committal” or “The Encounter” to mark separate chapters. We’re stuck with Grace—a transplanted local who returns home in search of answers—and the standoffish Jack as he barks over the phone at employees, asserting his businessy importance. Trapped by ominous figures standing in place, Grace keeps succumbing to visions of hissing snakes, blasphemous seduction and brimstone. And so scenes stammer on, with Jack frustratedly muttering about escape plans before Grace falls into another screaming fit when she awakes from more nightmares. The film is, at its best, a repetitive chore that presumes simply featuring secret societies and scared characters is enough to frighten us.
At its worst, The Long Night casts no spell of malevolence nor translates occult imagery into home-invasion terror. Ragsdale stages stare-offs from behind window panes and uses slithering serpents as possible dark arts symbolism, yet they mean nothing in the grand scheme of stuck-in-place momentum. The introduction and execution of Jeff Fahey’s Wayne summarize what little, thoughtless plot advancement exists, as the film’s only interrupter saunters on screen, gets angry, then needlessly marches in front of Minion # Whatever to die a most hilarious (unintentional) death. The entire sequence feels so mechanical in its desire to show Grace and Jake’s stalkers as violent, ruthless followers, yet registers barely a raised neck hair given the rigid execution. It’s almost as if Fahey just wanted off the project and accepted the quickest exit.
Neither Taylor-Compton nor Funk have substantial arcs to explore, starting with “lovers” and stopping with “anxious lovers.” The Long Night doesn’t care about depicting backstory since there’s an entire Hamptons pit-stop where Jake introduces Grace to his parents that goes awry—but we wouldn’t know; it’s not important enough to establish dynamic tension. Ragsdale seems obsessed with shooting at South Carolina’s oldest standing wooden structure (historic location scouting), where narrative richness and lived-in performances are afterthoughts. Taylor-Compton’s Grace becomes this screechy howler, constantly shrieking at horned-masked baddies, while Funk exudes no personality beyond another Wall Street broseph who keeps running outside, then back inside, for various reasons. There’s not much more to analyze.
As The Long Night plays its final cards, implications of lustfulness, maternity and Grace’s presumed trance unspool in a montage of indie horror B-roll. Ragsdale never has command over pacing, tone or enchantment, because he’s distracted by the film’s white-painted architectural landmark. It’s desperately uninteresting and underdeveloped, then explodes in this wasted starburst of unearned apocalyptica. The Long Night can be summarized by Fahey’s character: In with a whimper, out with a smatter of blood, leaving audiences scratching their heads.
Director: Rich Ragsdale
Writer: Robert Sheppe, Mark Young
Starring: Scout Taylor-Compton, Nolan Gerard Funk, Jeff Fahey, Deborah Kara Unger
Release Date: February 4, 2022; June 30, 2022 (Shudder)
Matt Donato is a Los Angeles-based film critic currently published on SlashFilm, Fangoria, Bloody Disgusting, and anywhere else he’s allowed to spread the gospel of Demon Wind. He is also a member of the Hollywood Critics Association. Definitely don’t feed him after midnight.