‘Night’s End’ is saved by an entertaining final act
Night’s End, the latest from Jennifer Reeder (Knives and Skin), written by American playwright Brett Neveu, follows Ken Barber (Geno Walker), a divorced dad suffering from anxiety and agoraphobia, who finds himself in a haunted apartment. The first act builds a picture of Ken’s life, including his daily routine: he wakes up counting backwards from 10 to help soothe anxiety, he has coffee, eats the same foods, takes care of his many plants, and records YouTube videos of himself sharing various tips (which get little views). He also uses an exercise machine — an inversion table(?), commonly used to ease back pain — where he lays almost upside down, but this is never explained. One of the strangest things we see, however, is that Ken blocks out the daylight by taping up old newspapers across the windows — presumably to aid plant growth under blue light, but again, this is also never explained.
Everyone Ken communicates with in the film is via video call. After his friend Terry (Felonious Monk) highlights that a taxidermy bird fell off a shelf in one of Ken’s videos, Ken makes a video about it where he addresses commenters who also saw it and suggest his apartment is haunted. Ken is encouraged by his ex-wife (Kate Arrington), her husband (Michael Shannon), and Terry to focus on the ghost activity and also see if anyone previously died in his apartment. Things start to become more eerie when Ken experiences paranormal activity, including loud knocks, the sounds of footsteps, and creepy figures. Ken eventually hires Colin (Lawrence Grimm), a mysterious Occultist, who helps him perform an exorcism broadcasted online with Dark Corners (Daniel Kyri), but the ordeal turns into a bigger nightmare.
Night’s End is limited to one location, though it’s unclear if this was intentional or due to COVID-19 restrictions. While this can be effective at building a sense of claustrophobia, its limiting location allows the film to feel boring for stretches of time as there’s not a lot of interesting dialogue or visuals going on — especially when most of the story covers is revealed through video call conversations and Ken’s dull routine. It definitely makes use of show not tell, but few things are explained or explored further which feels like an oversight.
There are some intriguing overlay effects, but most of the haunting doesn’t feel particularly scary. This is in large part due to the film’s tone, which includes effective and realistic humour, but it doesn’t balance well with the horror elements until everything comes together towards the end and the film begins to find its strengths. The murky cinematography does not help matters, but the film excels with its use of props with taxidermy birds and the paranormal artefacts and equipment Colin has Ken use — such as a spirit jar with various markings in an ancient language, an item I’ve never seen used in a film before.
It’s not until almost 50 minutes in that we learn the true extent of what happened to Ken, including why he moved. It’s at this point that the film becomes more entertaining and, perhaps, more chilling, but it’s a shame these elements didn’t come earlier because there is little reason to root for or care about our neurotic protagonist Ken, despite Walker’s strong performance. The film’s summary also mentions Ken moving into a new apartment that he doesn’t know is haunted. I thought moving would be a big part of the first act, but he’s already moved once the film begins and mentions later in passing that he was downsized. Due to this, and the slow reveal of some other information, the first hour unfortunately feels quite bland and subdued.
Night’s End is painfully average and, while this is not the type of film I thought Reeder would ever direct, there’s a lot of interesting ideas here from Neveu, especially as the film attempts to go beyond the predictability of its genre. There’s a lot of fun to be had with its entertaining final act, which makes what comes before it worth sitting through. The film has a humorous tone and is to be enjoyed.
Night’s End premieres on Shudder UK + US on March 31st.