Now Streaming: The Night Before (2017) Reviewed

Director Brett Bentman is an artist who is focused on relationships and the natural consequences these relations breed in the face of extreme duress.  His film Apocalypse Road was a deconstruction of the apocalypse genre, eschewing cannibal mutants and explosions for a quiet, somber exploration of sisterhood.  His next film, The Night Before, abandons the wasteland and travels into the heart of suburbia, another graveyard of familial distress.  

Mother Kristina and her daughter Penny are abducted on the night before Halloween, and held prisoner in the home of a madman.  Desperate to free her daughter and herself, Kristina is forced to embrace violence and subterfuge in order to escape her demented captor.  Bentman's script continues his trend of minimalism.  The dialogue is lean and each scene serves as a stepping stone to the next, creating a fairly straightforward, but entertaining experience.  Rachel Whittle's turn as Kristina is the centerpiece.  Her ability to communicate the spectrum of trauma, coupled with her heartbreaking scenes with her estranged husband and teenage daughter are authentic and never forced.  This is perhaps the best part of The Night Before.  Everyone struggles with the pitfalls of everyday life, and yet, beyond long supermarket lines and marital dysfunction, demons walk among us, waiting to strike.  

Steven Michael Quezada (Breaking Bad) has an excellent supporting role as a cop on the trail of the killer.  His limited screen time takes advantage of the economy of the script to deliver exposition that immediately invokes Carpenter's Halloween, using tales of terror to set the stage.  Tom Zembrod's chilling performance as the villain is interesting.  Initially, it seems borderline campy, with the killer donning a gas mask and tighty-whitey underpants while delivering rasping threats to his prey.  However, as the narrative progresses, his character reveals the insanity that plagues him and creates a unique dynamic with Whittle's heroine.  The easy approach would have to humanize the antagonist, however, Bentman's snapshot approach works better, due to the spartan presentation.  

The only instances of flair are in the visuals and sound.  Michael Ray Lewis' cinematography takes advantage of J.M. Wright's production design to present the house as a Halloween nightmare.  Bold neon lights flood the exterior while inside, is a place of two different worlds.  On the surface is the expected domestic sanctum, however, the villain's presence along with a menacing simian doll immediately remind the viewer of the corruption underneath the pitch perfect veneer.  David Levy's synth laden score is the final component, accentuating the action with ominous notes and brooding rhythms.  

Available now on Amazon Prime, The Night Before doesn't bring anything new to the genre, but it presents itself as an impeccable example of independent film making.  If you're interested in a reverse home invasion scenario that features above board visuals, a memorable ensemble, and patient direction, this will not disappoint.  

--Kyle Jonathan