By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Starring Hannah Kleeman, Tim Torre and Luke Persiani
Written and directed by Brian Cavallaro
The only scary thing about AGAINST THE NIGHT is that it proves even the most underachieving let’s-go-check-out-the-haunted-place flick can achieve distribution (this one even got limited theatrical play last fall ahead of its VOD debut today), while more distinctive and idiosyncratic movies struggle to be seen.
The only surprising thing about AGAINST THE NIGHT is that this particular let’s-go-check-out-the-haunted-place flick isn’t entirely styled as found footage. Instead, it’s only half dim camcorder/night-vision shots, the other half consisting of equally wan traditional photography. An early, lengthy discussion between the nine principal characters is shot in the least creative way possible, with everyone just gathered around a couch, which does not make one hopeful for what will follow.
Before that, we get an opening scene in which Rachel (Hannah Kleeman), the sole survivor of a tragedy that claimed her friends, is interviewed by a detective played by Frank Whaley (taking a couple of hours to give NIGHT a bit of name value). Here I take a moment to cry, once again: Why do so many horror filmmakers begin with suspense-killing giveaways like this? Anyway, we then jump back in time to spend a few minutes with Rachel and Sean (Tim Torre), whom we learn have a romantic history but are no longer involved, and that’s pretty much the beginning and end of the characterization among this group.
The only exception is Hank (Luke Persiani), a video jock and real jerk who sometimes looks like Waldo with his red cap and glasses. He shoots shows like CHILDREN WHO SEE GHOSTS, and in the midst of a party, he suggests everyone join him on a late-night spirit-hunting excursion to Pennsylvania’s real-life abandoned Holmesburg Prison. This place is within walking distance yet no one else in the group seems to have heard of it, though one of them thinks it would be “kinda hot” to visit. With its unusual wheel-like design and history of controversial scientific experimentation on inmates, Holmesburg is a made-to-order filming site, and in fact a number of features have previously shot there. Full disclosure: One of them was SHADOW: DEAD RIOT, a movie I scripted a number of years back, so for me, AGAINST THE NIGHT doesn’t even have novelty of location going for it.
It doesn’t contain novelty of much else either. Hank leads his group to the Holmesburg gates, they debate briefly about going inside, and then of course they do. Here’s the rest of the plot summary:
“What is this place?”
“Let’s split up.”
“What was that noise?”
“We have to go!”
“This isn’t funny, man!”
Of course, everyone abandons their cell phones early for no plausible reason, which occasions an awkward ONE MISSED CALL name-drop. When they start getting bumped off by a mysterious killer wearing a MY BLOODY VALENTINE-esque gas mask, the camera shakes around a lot during the murders, eliminating the necessity of staging convincing action or employing active makeup effects. There’s much bickering about who or what the villain could be, which is understandable because writer/director Brian Cavallaro can’t seem to decide either, dropping a string of red herrings and bait-and-switches, right up to an ending that’s WTF in the wrong way.
Cavallaro is an award-winning commercials and TV documentary director, but when it comes to horror features, he apparently hasn’t gotten the memo that we’re past the point where the girls should cower and snivel through the whole movie while the guys get to be proactive. Or that nudity as gratuitous as it is here comes off as more desperate than erotic. There are a couple of scares in the late going, but even a broken clock is right twice a day, and they don’t prevent AGAINST THE NIGHT’s 85 minutes from seeming quite a bit longer.