26th Aug2017

Frightfest 2017: ‘Nightworld’ Review

by Rupert Harvey

Stars: Jason London, Lorina Kamburova, Robert Englund, Gianni Capaldi, Diana Lyubenova | Written by Loris Curci, Dimitar Hristov, Barry Keating, Milan Konjevic | Directed by Patricio Valadares

nightworld-poster

As the camera swoops over a chilly boreal wilderness, and Luc Suarez’s brooding music evokes an air of intrigue and menace, it seems like we’re onto a winner. And look, there’s Robert Englund in the credits! That’s a sign of quality, right?

Jason London plays Brett Anderson – an ex-cop rather than an ex-Suede frontman – who is having nightmares about his dead wife, Ana (Diana Lyubenova). So naturally he moves to the Bulgarian capital Sofia and becomes a security camera operative in a creepy basement. A man named Martin (Gianni Capaldi) runs the building on behalf of a shadowy organisation. Brett is kept in the dark about what the organisation actually does – and also about what might be skulking in the giant hangar he’s observing through the cameras. What could be behind those enormous doors, embossed with their Cthulu images?

It’s an easy gig for Brett. Even better, he meets Zara (Lorina Kamburova), a hottie barista half his age, and she melts in his arms. At one point they share a pretty funny, unsexy sex scene which literally turns into a bloody nightmare.

Of course, it’s not long before Brett starts seeing weird things in the cameras, and hearing weird things in his head. So he calls Dick Halloran. Sorry, I mean Jacob (Englund). He’s a blind man who used to do Brett’s job. You may think someone blind wouldn’t be the ideal person to analyse Brett’s camera footage, but it turns out he’s there to provide exposition – albeit in a teasing way, to maximise the sense of mystery.

Nightworld is an onion of a movie, all backstory layered upon dull backstory. It’s not just his wife that Brett has lost, but his ex-partner. He also carries the guilt of a killing a kid. That’s before we get to the backstories of the building itself, one of which, about the murder of twin girls, is basically lifted wholesale from The Shining. This is all explained – painfully slowly – before we even receive an explanation of what “Nightworld” is (clue: it’s not very interesting), when yet more characters are thrown into the mix.

No wonder Brett and Zara are confused. They’re stuck in a narrative which thinks that not knowing things is the same as intrigue. Actually, it’s just lazy storytelling. The script starts as a humourless, obtuse slog and only gets worse. After 51 minutes, Brett’s still asking, “What the hell is going on?” 62 minutes: “I don’t even understand what you’re saying!” 80 minutes: “How is this possible?”

In Nightworld itself (the revelation of which is such a big deal that Zara is simply permitted to tag along), the concept of time “has no meaning”. I would agree that the 90 minutes I spent with this movie were, indeed, meaningless; but moreover, the only temporal disruption we encounter within the narrative is a parade of people asking Brett where he’s been the last few days. That’s right – we’re told, not shown.

All paths lead to the mysterious hangar; but the climactic encounter is a confusing, boring mess of scrappy editing, and it underlines the film’s complete lack of effective scares. Up to that point we’ve had the sounds of scampering feet, crash cuts, jump scares and glum strangers spotted in upstairs windows, so by the point of the “Big Reveal” the movie has already collapsed under the weight of its clichés.

London has never been an actor of nuance, and his reaction to his aural hallucinations – wide-eyed shock and uttering “Christ, Brett!” aloud – is funny for the wrong reasons. The actor is not helped by some very poor, pasted-on sound design, ranging from cheesy noises of lights short-circuiting to giggling children (presumably having more fun than us the audience) to sub-Exorcist voice manipulation.

In collaboration with four (count ‘em!) screenwriters, Chilean director Patricio Valladares seems to be reaching for a Richard Kelly-like sense of unfolding mystery. But even Kelly himself has shown how wrong it can go when the concept is implemented poorly, and when the pay-off isn’t worth it. Valladares lifts countless ideas – not to mention his sickly yellow colour grading – from a host of better movies, and the result is pointless pretender.

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