Arrow in the Head reviews Fear the Night, a home invasion thriller starring Maggie Q and directed by Neil LaBute
PLOT: A bachelorette party being held in an isolated farmhouse is crashed by a group of homicidal home invaders.
REVIEW: In some circles, writer/director Neil LaBute tanked his reputation by making the goofball 2006 remake of The Wicker Man – which is a shame, because when he first arrived on the scene he was a best known for making emotionally devastating dramas and dark comedies like In the Company of Men and Your Friends & Neighbors. His latest film is the home invasion thriller Fear the Night… and while it’s not on the level of his well-regarded dramas and dark comedies, it also doesn’t fall to the depths of the Wicker Man remake. (Which star Nicolas Cage insists was always meant to be a comedy as well.) So it may be best to refer to this one as “From the director of Lakeview Terrace”. It’s not great, it’s not bad. It is serviceable.
Maggie Q stars as combat veteran and recovering addict Tess, who isn’t known for enjoying social gatherings but agrees to attend a bachelorette party since one of her sisters, Rose (played by Highdee Kuan), is the bride-to-be. The venue is a location the characters in Bridesmaids would have shot down immediately: an isolated desert farmhouse. In addition to Rose and Tess, the partiers are Mia (Gia Crovatin), Esther (Kirstin Leigh), Noelle (Ito Aghayere), Divya (Roshni Shukla), Bridget (Brenda Meaney), and Tess and Rose’s extremely unpleasant and judgmental sister Beth (Kat Foster). They plan to spend their time at the farmhouse drinking, playing party games, and being entertained by Alfonse (KeiLyn Durrel Jones), a stripper who also handles the catering. But the party is ruined when a group of men armed with blades and bows and arrows shows up outside the house, demanding to be let in so they can retrieve something they believe is hidden away in there. And they’re very willing to murder everyone in the house to make sure they get what they came for.
There have been a lot of home invasion thrillers released in recent years, and Fear the Night doesn’t do a lot to stand out from the pack. It’s reminiscent of the likes of You’re Next and Tiger House – but that doesn’t mean it’s not entertaining to see Tess figure out ways to fight back against the violent attackers while also trying to help her sister and sister’s friends survive the night. If you’re looking for some thrills, the movie provides 92 minutes of solid entertainment. I tend to enjoy watching home invasion thrillers, because they take one of the scariest scenarios imaginable – the idea of violent strangers busting into your place in the night – and then let us watch people turn the tables on those who seek to do harm. They’re simple, often satisfying examples of set-up and pay-off, and I would consider Fear the Night to be one of the better ones.
That said, it would have been a lot better if LaBute had included more character work. Considering his past works, it’s a bit shocking that most of the characters in this film come off as such empty vessels. We don’t know anything about most of the people attending the bachelorette party. We’re never given any reason to like or care about most of them. Tess is the focus. We know Rose is nice and Beth isn’t – and some of the partiers seem to be just as mean as Beth, which isn’t surprising from LaBute. But for the most part, they’re just there to be scared and possibly end up on the body count. Some of them prove capable of stepping up and doing something to save themselves, some don’t, and some aren’t even given a chance. If we knew more about them, we could get even more wrapped up in their predicament. We could root for them or against them, and feel more suspense when they’re put in direct danger. All of the actors did well with the material they were given to work with, and each of the partiers has at least one moment in the spotlight as the story plays out, but the writer/director could have built up their characters more in the first half.
LaBute also kneecaps the suspense with the unnecessary inclusion of timestamps, as if it really matters to the viewer that something is occurring at a specific time of night. The momentum is hindered when the film stops to cut to a black screen with a time update between nearly every scene.
If you like home invasion thrillers, Fear the Night is worth checking out. Better decisions could have been made when the film was being put together, but it still works well enough as it is. Don’t let LaBute’s association with The Wicker Man keep you away.
Quiver Distribution will be giving Fear the Night a theatrical, digital, and VOD release on July 21st.