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Eli Horowitz Gone in the Night Review

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Gone in the Night | Review

Gone in the Night | Review

Rental Condition: Horowitz Navigates Eerie Scenario in Patchwork Psych Thriller

Eli Horowitz Gone in the Night ReviewGwen Guthrie famously crooned, “Ain’t nothin’ goin on but the rent,” back in 1986, but in the era of Airbnb and private rental services, it turns out there’s often the potential for a whole lot of other things going on when you’re staying in a place not your own. Eli Horowitz, the creator behind the series Homecoming, directs Winona Ryder (whose original last name is also Horowitz, though they’re not related) in his narrative debut Gone in the Night, given one of those generic 1980’s style monikers of menace (like Still of the Night, Into the Night, etc.) after it originally premiered as The Cow on the film festival circuit.

It turns out the bovine reference might lend investigative-minded audience members an inkling of what a third act twist might be, an inventive take on the growing glut of similar rental-themed thrillers which will eventually become a normalized subgenre (like the property related woes of the upwardly mobile homeowners of the 1990s, i.e., Pacific Heights, etc.). As it’s one of the few cinematic offerings from Ryder over the past decade, there’s more to enjoy than not in this odd venture from Horowitz, which at its core is another story about how little anyone really knows about one another.

Released from the straitjacket of Stranger Things, Ryder stars as Kath, a woman on a vacation with her somewhat younger and irresponsible boyfriend of one year, Max (John Gallagher Jr.). He’s booked them a weekend at an isolated cabin in the redwoods he’d heard about from some friends, and they seem to be in need of rediscovering a reason for remaining together. As Max doesn’t have a driver’s license, Kath drives the whole way and when they arrive in the middle of the night, she’s exhausted. Matters are complicated when it appears the cabin has already been booked by another couple, Al and Greta (Owen Teague, Brianne Tju), whose awkward behavior suggests a Polanski style weekend of anxiety and menace. But the next morning, Kath learns Max was caught making love to Greta, and they absconded in the night. After a few days pass, her nagging curiosity leads her to try and reach Greta by tracking down the property owner, Nick Barlow (Dermot Mulroney). He won’t give out the other renter’s info, but the two of them go on a little adventure trying to track down Greta. When they find her, it would appear Max simply left Kath for the younger woman. Accepting her fate, Kath shows up on Nick’s doorstep with a gift, surprised at what she discovers…

More George Sluizer’s The Vanishing (either version) than Dave Franco’s The Rental (or even another upcoming Airbnb thriller, Barbarian), the premise of Gone in the Night remains genuinely creepy even before anyone knows exactly what’s going on. As countless narratives begin, a couple (with little romantic chemistry) drives to a remote location in the woods only to be confronted by odd strangers. Initially, Gallagher is the most uncomfortable element until Horowitz magically backtracks in the narrative to reveal what was actually happening, a tactic which suggests a more appealing narrative structure could have made this feel less gimmicky. Ryder, on the other hand, seems to be existing in a custom made dress calibrated for her customary energy of oddness and empathy.

While there’s little organic gravitation to be had with Gallagher, there’s a certain charm to her scenes with Mulroney, even when the script descends into slapstick (like Mulroney convincing an idiotic and irate customer at her place of work to rebuy a dead plant he’s returning at a higher price) or egregiously awful moments of exposition (like an old colleague of Mulroney’s awkwardly stumbling into a coffee shop convo to inanely provide background information). But even despite these missteps, the third act reveals how Kath is able to, well, claim her place in the sun-dappled world for a finale which plays effectively, and reminds us of what an offbeat, charming presence Winona Ryder can be on screen.

★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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