Scout Taylor-Compton, star of Rob Zombie’s Halloween films, is back in the horror saddle again, starring in the latest Shudder exclusive, The Long Night. The film is an atmospheric occult tale with some stellar cinematography and a few generally creepy scenes. Horror films about ancient demons aren’t anything new. While The Long Night doesn’t break new ground, it’s still a stylish film that contains some genuine scares.
The cast, Taylor-Compton especially, does their best with the script given. The Southern plantation setting becomes dark and threatening as the story progresses. You get a feeling these characters aren’t making it out alive. The film’s core fault is that it traffics in too many cliches.
The Long Night Is a Couple’s Trip from Hell
In director Rich Ragsdale’s film, Taylor-Compton stars as Grace Convington, a product of the foster care system who hasn’t had the easiest life. Nolan Gerard Funk plays her boyfriend, Jack Cabot. Initially, the couple sets out to see his family in New York. The trip is short-lived, however, because Jack’s well-to-do family doesn’t accept Grace. We never actually see the trip to New York, but rather, the aftermath. Furious that Jack refuses to stick up for her, Grace verbally lashes out at her boyfriend, rightfully so.
There’s a major missed opportunity here. I’m unsure why that trip to New York isn’t shown. It would have been an opportunity to learn more about Grace’s character and how/why she’ll never be accepted by Jack’s family, due to class differences. Instead, we’re treated to only one to two lines of dialogue about it. Then, it’s glossed over. A dinner scene/meet the parents sequence would have gone a long way in establishing these characters. It’s also unclear why this couple is together if they’re so different. What do they see in each other exactly? Maybe opposites attract?
After the doomed New York trip, the couple heads to the South and stays at a plantation. Apparently, Grace knows the owner Frank Caldwell, who’s MIA the moment the couple shows up. Grace apparently has some sort of family who owns the land and house. This again is a detail that’s barely touched upon and rarely explored. However, Grace’s decision to stay at the house dooms the couple. They become prey to cult members adorned in robes and skull masks, an outfit we’ve seen in plenty of other horror movies.
The Long Night’s Cultish Invaders
From the moment Grace and Jack pull up to the plantation, stuff gets weird. Not only is the owner MIA, but the couple encounters one weird image after the other. Grace frequently sees menacing black snakes, even in the kitchen. Jack, meanwhile, encounters a weird shrine of sorts in the woods, featuring a deer skull and other bizarre items.
From there, the horror worsens. Nightmares featuring the hooded figures torment Grace. These visions worsen and cause ringing in her ears. Eventually, the cult members surround the house, lighting wooden pentagrams on fire. They eventually creep closer and closer to the door until the film nears home invasion territory.
The middle of the movie, once the invasion really ramps up, has some nerve-jangling moments. You do get a sense that these characters can die at any moment, Jack especially. These cultists aren’t messing around. The home invasion sequences are some of the film’s strongest, tense and spinetingling.
What The Cult Desires
Unfortunately, the cult’s reasons for existing really borders cliché territory. They want to free a demon that’s been imprisoned on the land for over 400 years. Other than that, the demon isn’t given much backstory. How does it differ from every other demon in occult horror? It doesn’t, really. Jack discovers an ancient book explaining the demon’s history, but it’s not all that interesting.
The film edges Rosemary’s Baby territory, too. Grace is of interest to the cult because apparently, the big bad demon needs to impregnate her to be reborn. Again, this is another storyline that we’ve seen one too many times. That said, the last 15-20 minutes take a rather interesting and unexpected turn when more of Grace’s backstory is revealed via the cult master (Deborah Kara Unger). While much of the movie is predictable, the last act isn’t.
The Long Night’s Positives
While the storyline isn’t exactly The Long Night’s strength, the film does have some real positives. Seeing Taylor-Compton as a lead in another horror film is a treat. She’s a good scream queen. Funk gives a decent performance too, but the film’s real strengths lie in its imagery. Cinematographer Pierluigi Malavasi really establishes mood and atmosphere, from the moment the couple arrives on the plantation. The nighttime dream sequences are especially eerie, and the plantation itself becomes a character, sprawling and sinister, ready to swallow the couple into a hellish nightmare.
And though we’ve seen plenty of films before feature cults dressed in robes with skull masks, when this film has them circling the house, inching closer and closer, before the full-blown invasion, it’s downright spooky. They feel like a genuine threat, even if their wardrobe is all too familiar. There’s one particular murder that’s quite nasty and prolonged, highlighting their power.
Further, Sherri Chung’s original music is another highlight. It works in establishing tone, especially early on, during the couple’s long car ride to the South. Chung’s lyrics scream, warning, danger ahead. The music and cinematography work so well here.
Overall, The Long Night isn’t a must-see. Shudder’s had much better offerings so far this year. That said, while the film has too many cliché elements to count, it is an atmospheric occult tale with one rather chilling murder sequence and a few arresting visuals. At 90 minutes, it doesn’t overstay its welcome, either.
The Long Night debuts on Shudder on June 30. For more on the streaming service’s latest content, be sure to check out my Shudder Secrets column.
Brian Fanelli is a poet and educator who also enjoys writing about the horror genre. His work has been published in The LA Times, World Literature Today, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Horror Homeroom, and elsewhere. On weekends, he enjoys going to the local drive-in theater with his wife or curling up on the couch, and binge-watching movies with their cat, Giselle.