'Against the Night': Film Review

Against the Night Still - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of Ball Four Productions
At least the setting is spectacular.

A group of young people spend the night in a creepy abandoned prison, with fatal results, in Brian Cavallaro's horror film.

Other than mostly eschewing the found-footage style in which one can easily see it going, Brian Cavallaro’s horror film leaves no clichéd stone unturned. Depicting the very long, violence-filled night that ensues after a group of young people trespass in a creepy, abandoned prison, Against the Night proves as generic as its title.

The film does boast one unqualified star attraction, however, and it’s not any of the young actors in the ensemble. It’s the real-life Holmesburg Prison in Philadelphia. It was built in 1896 and remained in continuous operation for nearly a century until it was closed in 1995. Its notorious history includes numerous atrocities committed against inmates and this past, combined with forbidding Gothic-style architecture, makes it an ideal setting for this sort of genre exercise.

Cavallaro makes the most of it, despite the pic’s rudimentary storyline. It involves aspiring filmmaker Hank (Luke Persiani), whose artistic bona fides are established by wearing a beanie and glasses, bribing his friends to help him shoot a ghost-hunting video in the prison, which proves remarkably easy to enter. He also regales his comrades with stories about the institution’s checkered past, including bio-chemical experiments conducted on inmates (which actually happened at Holmesburg).

You can guess the rest. The young trespassers split up and, kids being kids, begin fooling around because, after all, what better place to have sex than a dilapidated prison? The ensuing encounters, which include a girl-on-girl makeout session and enough female nudity to satisfy the teenage male demographic, features such dialogue as this memorable come-on line from a horny lothario: “It’s like Orange is the New Black, but with a dude!”

As anyone who’s ever seen a horror movie knows, having sex leads quickly to death. Such is the case here, with the victims brutally murdered one after another by — the explanation proves muddled and confusing — anything from a homicidal meth addict wearing a gas mask to a ghost to an alien. Indeed, Cavallaro seems to want to have his gruesome cake and eat it, too, throwing so many possibilities on the screen that it’s as if he was trying to make three movies, not one. Equally frustrating are the bookend scenes featuring one of the survivors talking to a detective (Frank Whaley, given unfortunately little screen time) who’s skeptical of her story until menacing proof rudely barges into his office.

Featuring just enough night-vision video footage to justify its slender premise, Against the Night is being described as a psychological thriller. But while it may have a few rudimentary thrills, its psychology is strictly for the birds.

Production company: Ball Four Productions
Distributor: Gravitas Ventures
Cast: Frank Whaley, Hannah Kleeman, Tim Torre, Luke Persiani, Josh Cahn, Nicole Souza, Leah Holleran, Erik Kochenberger, Yesenia Linares
Director-screenwriter-director of photography: Brian Cavallaro
Producers: Brian Cavallaro, Arielle Brachfeld
Production designer: Julia Eckenrode
Editor: Kevin Armstrong
Composer: Rob Houle
Casting: Brian Kurtas

86 minutes