I will let you know when I’ve had enough adventure.
Director Eli Horowitz (of “Homecoming” fame) speaks about his projects always starting with “something simple, even superficial.” If there’s a better descriptor for using a cabin in the woods as your springboard towards genre fare, I don’t know it. That’s not to say his and co-writer Matthew Derby‘s Gone in the Night (formerly The Cow) is superficial itself or that it uses said trope in a superficial way. In many regards the cabin being a cabin is unnecessary beyond its ability to provide an isolated setting. It’s more about what the characters do there and/or what it means metaphorically to escape the noise of city living that forever exists for youth while you grow older. This weekend was for Kath (Winona Ryder) and Max (John Gallagher Jr.) alone.
And yet they never are. Upon driving up to the address they’ve rented, they find another car is already present. Out comes Al (Owen Teague), surly and frustrated and disinterested in their plight. His girlfriend Greta (Brianne Tju), while just as apathetic, decides to be a good Samaritan if only to enjoy the awkward fun that may ensue from the four of them sharing the space for the night. Unveiled comments about Kath’s age by both her boyfriend (a decade younger) and Greta (over two decades younger) push her to both want to prove them wrong and not want to engage at all. Acting on the former feeling ultimately augments the latter until she goes to bed early while Max remains—oblivious to the reality that they’re unwanted.
The plot therefore truly begins the next morning when Kath awakens to an empty bed and emptier cabin. She eventually finds Al crying on the path to the water, lamenting the fact that their significant others had run off together with zero regard of them. While we can’t yet speak about Greta at this point, Kath no longer being saddled with Max on her arm is a development that’s easy to champion. He’s an obnoxious bore who spends way too much money on looking like he’s got a pulse on the younger generation. He believes too. Watching this quartet play an antiquated “love-centric” board game is hilarious as a result because Max truly thinks he’s the life of the party despite Al’s complacency, Greta’s ridicule, and Kath’s mortification.
Even so, Kath was dumped. Neither age nor experience makes that hurt any less. That it was for someone they just met who’s younger than him than he was to her piques Kath’s curiosity enough to where she can’t resist trying to discover more. Cut to her calling the cabin’s owner (Dermot Mulroney‘s Barlow) to see about procuring any details she can as far as a contact is concerned. He relents at first, but a friendship sparks. The two see a lot of their own worries and preoccupations about mortality and their embracement of solitude in the other. So, down they go into the rabbit hole to find out what really happened. What starts as curiosity—a hunt for Greta and Max’s hiding place—turns into exhilarating adventure.
Horowitz and Derby know what they’re doing. By mirroring two new potential romances (Greta and Max opposite Kath and Barlow), they’re able to deflect from our original expectations of foul play and mystery. Introducing Greta and Al wearing rain slickers with hoods up in the dark and intense, yet manipulatively playful demeanors presumes that something nefarious is about to happen. The film opens with a foreboding glimpse at the cabin as the score works to raise our blood pressure, so Kath finding Al in tears that they’ve been dumped is quite the letdown. Turning things into a fateful meet-cute for her and Barlow honestly had me wondering if I was missing something. It was all just so weirdly counterintuitive to what Gone in the Night had originally promised.
As if on cue, the screen goes black, transporting us back in time to glean additional context. There we see Kath and her more “mature” friends aren’t innocent in the ageism debate themselves, mocking Max for his limbo existence between generations and his try-hard desperation for relevancy. We also discover that some crucial information had previously been left out of the equation. Motivations for certain actions were duplicitous in nature, early assumptions are proven to be more in line with where things are going than the middle act had all but refocused, and the whole becomes an intriguing puzzle box wherein character intent cannot even be hypothesized anymore. It’s quite the narrative maneuver. Just when I thought things were too straightforward for their own good, Horowitz hits reset.
Suddenly there’s a half hour remaining as the information overload re-writes new context into everything so fast that I finally just let it wash over me. Rather than keep guessing, I let the ride take me wherever it was heading. The destination is dark—almost darkly comic in some respects. Some will surely say it goes too far while others will say it doesn’t go far enough. I think a lot of how you feel might come down to your own age. Are you old enough to feel as Ryder and Mulroney’s characters feel even if their Kath and Barlow don’t quite see eye-to-eye themselves? Are you young enough to fear nothing like Tju and Teague? Or are you like Gallagher Jr. in-between, selling yourself out for relevance?
That disparity is why the finale works. It’s simple, flirts with extremes only to pull back, and even finds itself concluding with a pitch-black final frame that may in fact prove to be subtly darker than the myriad other possibilities. In the end, despite how any of the characters may delude themselves, they all fear what’s coming. Some rebel. Some reject. Some pretend. Only Kath is truly comfortable with who she is and what she wants. They can be cruel and cloying yet she remains undeterred. Yes, it’s nice to turn back the clock sometimes. It’s nice to feel wanted and have fun. But none of that negates the reality that Kath enjoys the silence of her books and plants. One person’s “waste of time” is another’s dream.
courtesy of Vertical Entertainment