Mitchell Brown says the mystery thriller Gone in the Night digs into the baggage of past experiences, mortality, and regret.
Screened at the 2022 Overlook Film Festival in New Orleans, Gone in the Night (2022) is the feature-length directorial debut of Eli Horowitz, co-executive producer of the Amazon Studios series, Homecoming (2018). Horowitz co-wrote the screenplay with Matthew Derby. It’s a thriller and a character-driven narrative that constantly keeps audiences guessing where the story will go next. It explores the concepts of mortality, personal regret, and differences in values through generational gaps.
Kath (Winona Ryder) and Max (John Gallagher Jr.) are a couple in a rocky, if not fleeting, relationship who rent a secluded cabin in the woods for the weekend. Their trip comes to an aggressive halt when they’re given an awkward and unwelcome greeting by another couple, Al (Owen Teague) and Greta (Brianne Tju), who have a conflicting reservation. After sharing the cabin for the night, Kath finds that Max and Greta are gone. It appears the two have left together. Out of frustration or a desire for closure, Kath receives help from Nicholas (Dermot Mulroney), the cabin owner, to discover what happened to them.
The film's story of a couple going up to a remote cabin could lend itself to a home invasion or slasher film. Like the film, Pig (2021), Gone in the Night has a familiar popcorn plot and emphasizes moments of human emotion rather than shock and awe. It’s elevated by how the story continuously ebbs and flows. The film seems to change its path often, and it’s good. There’s a constant metamorphosis in what kind of film it wants to be, altering your allegiances and perspectives on the characters and their dynamics. You may sympathize with a character one moment and the next, feeling contempt for them. The structure feels similar to Memento (2000), constantly interweaving the present and flashbacks to reveal more context to the audience slowly.
It surprised me the amount of empathy I felt for the characters. Kath and Nicholas’ bond becomes the heart of the story, heightened by the chemistry between Ryder and Mulroney. Their relationship isn’t inherently romantic, and it stems more from shared frustration and a desire to bond with another person. It hammers home the awareness of aging and reflecting on regret. The two represent the bitterness of poor decisions and circumstances. Whereas Kath is resigned to what’s happened in her life and trying just to move on, Nicholas is deliberately optimistic. Despite the obstacles in his way, he wants to make amends and make the most of his life. Max, Greta, and Al give a different generational perspective, coming across as arrogant and selfish in their worldviews, but they are never judged for it. Everyone is flawed in some way. They just have varied past experiences.
What falls short is the ultimate revelation toward the film’s close. It’s creepy, it's hinted at throughout, and the initial explanation is satisfying because of what’s established by the characters. However, the actual motivation feels muddled, and its logistics probably would’ve benefited from a little more explanation. The ending felt anti-climatic because we’re at a loss for what we’re meant to think in the final moments. However, it doesn’t take away from the goodwill built throughout the film.
Gone in the Night is excellent. Horowitz has an eye for characterization and the ability to obtain authentic performances, and the film has timely themes about youth and aging that don’t feel heavy-handed or belittling. If for nothing else, you’ll empathize with Kath and Nicholas. Their relationship and chemistry make for an endearing story in and of itself.