Neil LaBute‘s movies have always had something of an edge to them with titles like 1997’s In the Company of Men delivering a scathing, mean-spirited commentary on the sexes. He took a turn towards genre fare in 2006 with the much maligned but still entertaining remake of The Wicker Man, and he’s been dabbling ever since. Last year’s obvious but amusing vampire flick, House of Darkness, survived on the strength of both Justin Long and some sharp dialogue, but his take on the home invasion subgenre lacks both. That said, Fear the Night still finds some very minor thrills as dumb guys make the mistake of messing with Maggie Q.
Tes (Q) is a veteran of both the Iraqi War and an addiction to alcohol, and her present finds memories of both nipping at her heels. A weekend away for her younger sister Rose’s (Highdee Kuan) bachelorette party should be a break from the storm, but instead she’s immediately at odds with her other sister, Beth (Kat Foster), over past disagreements, attitudes, and actions. The family drama is put on hold, though, when a group of a local lowlifes starts shooting crossbow bolts into chests, eyeballs, and mouths. It’s up to Tes to help the women fight back in the hopes of surviving the night.
Home invasion thrillers come in a variety of styles and tones, but the best know that a few key elements are necessary for success. The protagonists should be some combination of endearing and engaging, the antagonists should be threatening and deadly, and there should be no shortage of tension and ingenuity. Think David Fincher’s Panic Room (2002), Bryan Bertino’s The Strangers (2008), or the Spanish chiller Kidnapped (2010) for some of the best. But, unfortunately, it’s barely worth thinking of LaBute’s Fear the Night at all.
From its odd and unnecessary in media res opening — a bloodied Tes limping down the road all alone, something that never happens in the film — to equally unnecessary timestamps that repeatedly appear with a black screen, the film lacks anything resembling an engrossing pace. Fear the Night stumbles through its first act with uninteresting stock characters until it finally pops to life with a beat ripped from 2011’s superior home invasion flick, You’re Next, as a crossbow bolt flies through the window leaving one of the women dead. What should kick things into gear instead triggers a lot of talking as LaBute’s script introduces the men outside who proceed to try and talk the women out instead of simply storming the house.
LaBute’s themes become all the more obvious, and like House of Darkness, it all comes down to how men drool and women rule. You’ll get no argument from me on that count, but the script — which runs the gamut from uninteresting to just plain dumb — is paying the idea lazy lip service rather than finding a story to go along with it. Tes repeatedly tells the women that they need to fight back, but while you think that’s setting up a turning of the tables, it’s instead for naught as only one scene shows a couple of the ladies attacking a dude. Tes instructs another woman to run out as a distraction, but no one sees the woman and she has to verbally get the bad guys’ attention. They could have just all gone out the back and escaped!
Fear the Night feels as if LaBute wasn’t fully paying attention to the end product and instead felt content hitting a handful of specific beats. The initial kill, Tes taking out the main bad guy, a “final” shot of Q wearing Converse and sitting on the front steps of bloodied house (LaBute clearly saw 2019’s Ready or Not) — all minor highlights, but everything between these scenes teases annoyance more than tension. Add in a corpse in frame for a couple minutes *and clearly still breathing* and an epilogue that goes on way too long, gets some details wrong, and exists only to repeat the film’s simplistic thesis, and you’re left with something of a mess.
If there’s an upside to Fear the Night, it’s a minor one in that it’s always good seeing Q in a lead role. 2021’s underseen Martin Campbell action/thriller, The Protege, shows that Q still has both the charisma and action chops to headline a film, but while she’s good here it’s not nearly enough to overcome the film’s numerous issues and the lack of depth with her character. She gives a methodical and engaging enough performance, but the one area you expect a film to let her shine is the action, and LaBute simply refuses. The kills and fights are fairly simplistic and lacking in action, and curiously, LaBute can’t even muster a cathartic satisfaction to any of the invader’s demises.
Fear the Night simply doesn’t work, and the only thing left to fear here is the threat of more Neil LaBute movies.