Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Aug 01, 2022 8:13 am 
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A movie that gradually unravels its murky secrets

It starts out like a conventional mystery. Kath (Winona Ryder) and her boyfriend Max (John Gallagher Jr.) are headed to a last-minute cabin rental in northern California for the weekend. Gallagher is 12 years younger then Ryder, and the difference is very intentional. Max is a character whose irritating boyishness seems to doom the relationship, though they haven't acknowledged that yet. When they get to the door of the cabin as darkness falls there's another, much younger couple already there. (Age is a big deal here, in fact the movie's main preoccupation.) Max and Kath are allowed to stay the night, but by morning, Max has disappeared with the much younger woman.

This could have been a kinkier version of a new pandemic-adjusted rom-com like Alone Together, the recent Katie Holmes- vehicle where a lady comes to an Airbnb cabin to escape lockdown, alone because her boyfriend bailed at the last minute, and it turns out the place is already occupied by Jim Sturgess. She stays anyway, and the overbooking leads to unexpected romance. Is double Airbnb booking going to be a major plot point now? Gone in the Night, however, has something other than romance on its mind, something rather more devious.

Greta (Brianne Tju) and Al (Owen Teague) are the young couple already there, who have an appealing sort of menace, especially Teague (Tju is a bit too blatant). They consent to let Max and Katie stay that night. The two couples wind up playing an old "adult" board game which obviously makes Kath uncomfortable, and when Greta is prompted by a throw of the dice to lick and bite Max's bare elbow, it's gotten too kinky for Kath and she goes to bed early.

When Kath wakes up next morning Max and Greta are gone and a distraught Al reports he saw them "hooking up" in the woods before they disappeared. Back in San Francisco's Mission District Kath, who has a plant shop, arranges to meet the cabin's owner Barlow (Mulroney) because she's trying to track down Greta - and he takes an interest in her dilemma. Why Kath doesn't just try to track down Max you'd have to ask the director and Matthew Derby, who co-authored this oddity. While Simon Abrams, on, says this movie wants to keep us "in the dark for as long as possible," I'd say it very much wants to tell us its secrets all along, but only by doling them out a little at a time. And this slow teasing process winds up being awkward and dubious storytelling.

In the past, when standards for screenplays were more conventional (and arguably higher), neatness was the rule, and most of the mystery was revealed only at the end. Maybe TV series writing is the influence that now makes some movie structures come out as choppy as this one. In fact, Abrams points out that writer Matthew Derby "co-created the psychological thriller 'Homecoming' podcast, which he adapted into a compelling TV series with Micah Bloomberg and 'Mr. Robot' show-runner Sam Esmail." I don't know about the psychological thriller 'Homecoming' podcast, but "Mr. Robot" is a wonderfully convoluted - and slow-unfolding - TV series, whose gradual revelations would never work as a feature film.

Adams points out that Max embodies Gen X characteristics it would be easy for a fifty-year-old to find irritating, while Mulroney's Barlow has an appealingly soft, rumpled tweediness besides being very rich from biotech projects whose high-pressure world he has long abandoned, all of which would be calculated to appeal to one of Kath's age. But the busy jumping-around flashbacks don't leave room for the Kath-Barlow relationship to develop much, despite the fact that Ryder and Mulroney are the reasons this movie got greenlighted.

If you enjoy a shaggy dog story of a plotline and don't mind scientific hokiness or ethical creepiness this movie may entertain you. It kept me entertained for upwards of an hour. But another third remained after that. Frankly, a movie with fake science and violation of basic ethics at its core is not my thing, and they are underpinnings of Gone in the Night, a movie that never tells us very much about its characters, preferring to rummage around among its murky revelations. Watched selectively, or very tongue in cheek, it may please; its tech specs and cast are fine. Good material therefore for the small screen, which is where it is landing now.

Gone in the Night, 90 mins., debuted (as The Cow) at SxSW Mar. 15, 2022, and got limited big screen release July 15. Video on Demand release Aug. 2, 2022. MetaCritic rating Winona's age: 50.


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