Eye For Film >> Movies >> Fear The Night (2023) Film Review
Fear The Night
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
His horrible mistake with The Wicker Man aside, Neil LaBute has a history of making interesting films about uglier aspects of gender relations. He was exploring toxic masculinity long before it became fashionable, and he’s back on that topic here. Though it’s far from his most nuanced work, this home invasion horror tale has a few interesting things to say about expressions of masculinity and femininity within groups of women.
The occasion on which we meet these women is a hen party being held for Rose (Highdee Kuan) at a remote property which was owned by her parents and is now used for holiday rentals. The first people we meet are her older sisters: Tess (Maggie Q), a veteran of combat in Fallujah who has struggled to adjust to civilian life, and Beth (Kat Foster), a deeply conventional middle class woman who is continually embarrassed by this. They are joined by an assortment of friends, including the similarly short tempered but more socially fluent Divya (Roshni Shukla), playfully spiky Noelle (Ito Aghayere) and skittish blonde Mia (Gia Crovatin). The stage is set for a women-only night of fine dining, heavy drinking, sharing obscene jokes and leching over a stripper. It’s Tess’ worst nightmare, but it is about to change in a way that makes it everybody else’s.
An encounter in the nearest grocery store which sees Tess face off against three men who are hitting on Mia is so portentously played that we know we’re going to see them again, and with a shortage of other characters, it doesn’t take long to figure out who’s leading the gang which surrounds the house whilst the party is underway. What takes longer to emerge is the reason why. This is – realistically but somewhat annoyingly – a prominent concern for most of the women after the violence which we’ve been proimised by the title begins. To Tess, it’s significantly less important that fortifying the place as best they can and finding weapons. She’s already been paying keen attention to the landscape in that jittery way which, once acquired as habit, never really goes away. Unable to fit in with the hyper-femininity of a hen night, she now finds herself on home ground. Actual mansplaining being cut short very swiftly, she’s left in a position where the other women treat her with the mixture of distrust and dependency which, in most films of this sort, they would present to a man.
At least, that’s the way it looks on the surface. As you’ll notice very quickly if you pay attention to their eyes, one of the women isn’t inclined to behave according to type. The connection which quickly forms between her and Tess – more interesting when unspoken – gives them something else to fight for. It’s unfortunate in terms of how abruptly it develops after the loss of another character, but interesting in that it challenges the coding which American films have increasingly been relying on to replace the previously established strong hero, helpless heroine dynamic.
Also interesting here is the unfussy way in which some of the action scenes play out, with realism taking the place of the usually overplayed running around and knocking things over. Maggie Q is on good form, both as an actor and as a fighter. Tess has other battles to deal with, however, and it’s a scene on the steps with a bottle of beer which provides the film’s real emotional climax. Her male opponents are never particularly impressive, their tactical advantages quickly undermined by a stream of stupid decisions. A largely unnecessary epilogue robs the final conflicts of their impact.
All in all, this is a disappointing effort from LaBute, limited in its observations and lacking the wit which usually makes his work entertaining. It has moments of high tension and occasional good bits of character interaction, but he can do better. With female-focused thrillers now emerging in increasing numbers, this sort of thing won’t continue to cut it.Reviewed on: 23 Sep 2023