Written by: Matt Patti | July 20th, 2023
Fear the Night (Neil LaBute, 2023) 2½ out of 4 stars.
Bachelor/bachelorette parties can quickly turn wild. Anyone who has been to one knows this, though it varies from person to person. They’re billed by some as a “last night of freedom” before marriage, but that freedom sometimes goes too far. No matter what antics you’ve seen or heard about, I’d bet they’re small potatoes compared to those taking place in director Neil LaBute’s Fear the Night.
In the film, a bachelorette party soon turns to a bloodbath when intruders attempt to break into the venue. Fear the Night introduces us to Tes (Maggie Q, The Protégé), an Iraqi war veteran who still struggles to adapt to normal civilian life after serving. She is often brash and doesn’t quite fit in with or get along with others, love reserved solely for her sisters Beth (Kat Foster, Gasoline Alley) and Rose (Highdee Kuan, Proximity).
Rose is about to get married, and Beth plans her bachelorette party at their parents’ old house in the middle of the desert. At the party, Beth and Tes are soon at odds when Tes starts snooping around the property, almost if on reconnaissance. Beth just wants Tes to relax and let loose, but Tes finds it difficult to do so, as she is not great at being social, and continues to investigate around the house to ensure it’s safe.
Just as Beth has had enough and blows up at Tes for being overly paranoid, a group of mysterious men in masks arrive outside the house with weapons. Now, Beth and the other party guests look to Tes and her tactical experience to help them in this situation. Luckily for them, Tes is much more adept at dealing with this type of thing than at socializing.
Writer/director LaBute (House of Darkness) does a great job with his central character. While some of the supporting cast is mediocre, they are overshadowed (in a good way) by the dynamic, layered Tes. Maggie Q delivers an exceptional performance here as a reclusive, war-hardened veteran who still struggles in everyday life even years after the war. Tes’ skills are put to great use once the dangerous situation arises, and it’s quite fulfilling to see Tes transform from social outcast to commanding strategist.
LaBute dials up the tension immediately in this film within the first few minutes, where Beth and Tes argue over many topics, including some mundane, seemingly irrelevant items. This friction carries much of the first act, and is then replaced with more life-threatening immediacy in the form of the intruders. Once the masked men arrive, the pressure is dialed up to 10 as Tes and her sisters attempt to enact a plan, trapped inside the house. LaBute delivers quality suspense throughout, as the audience ponders what they might do in this situation.
While Fear the Night has the two most important aspects of an action thriller going for it (a compelling central character and quality suspense), there are quite a number of aspects that are poorly done. Firstly, there are a few subpar performances by the supporting cast that are distracting and threaten to take the viewer out of the movie. Also, LaBute decides to overdeliver with expositional dialogue far too often.
Conversations go on a bit too long and characters respond to each and every word that others say, which doesn’t often seem natural. Some characters make horribly stupid decisions, but those are offset by some intelligent tactics, as well. Finally, the plot is very predictable, but I wouldn’t say that takes away from the enjoyment of it, only that the film could be so much better with a few surprises.
Overall, Fear the Night is a capable thriller that should please most audiences. Film critics (like me) may find more than enough to nitpick here, and that is warranted. However, with its intriguing premise, quality tension, and badass central character, Fear the Night accomplishes what it sets out to do, though with many flaws along the way. Also, as an added bonus, we get to see women kick the living snot out of sexist, bigoted men, and who doesn’t love that?