After a night of drinking and partying, a group of friends decide to pay a visit to nearby abandoned Holmesburg Prison, an enormous, decaying structure in Philadelphia, PA. The group’s prankster, Hank (Luke Persiani), is an entry level director who believes bringing his friends to the prison will be perfect material for a ghost-hunting show he’s filming.
Naturally, once all nine friends are within the building’s walls, all hell breaks loose. First, the gates somehow end up locked behind them. Then, one by one, they go missing. Is someone, or something, out for blood?
If this is beginning to sound a bit familiar, that’s because much of Against the Night, director Brian Cavallaro’s first feature-length film since a 2004 comedy, In Plain Sight, is disappointingly contrived. It would appear that Cavallaro, who also penned the screenplay, borrowed a bunch of tropes from other low-budget horror films (think Paranormal Activity combined with a second-rate slasher) and smashed them all together in a lackluster attempt to come up with something relatively easy to sell to horror fans.
One of the film’s most glaring flaws is that there are far too many characters to keep track of, and they are largely interchangeable. For example, Hank, who enjoys playing “tricks” on the rest of the group (secretly filming two of his friends as they have sex is considered a harmless prank rather than a pending sexual harassment case), is very similar to Dan (Josh Cahn), another perverted joker type who endlessly hits on one of the female friends. Relatedly, there are Suzy (Amy Zenone), Michelle (Leah Holleran), and Brooke (Nicole Souza), all of whom are written only to be attention-loving party girls.
It seems an odd choice to have so many characters with nearly identical personalities, especially since we don’t learn any important or distinguishable facts about any of them before the action picks up. In truth, it’s difficult not to question whether Cavallaro may have been providing himself an effortless means of extending the running time to that of a feature film, considering the story itself is so simple. Another writer may have limited the number of central characters and created a sense of individuality around each while fleshing out the narrative. Cavallaro instead chose to increase the number of people and keep the half-baked idea for the story, simply writing in that someone disappears or reappears whenever the film begins to drag so as to keep the audience invested. This idea backfired, however, because it’s difficult to care when an underdeveloped character is in peril, especially in this case.
Against the Night also showcases some questionable acting. While a few members, namely Persiani and Cahn, are satisfactory in their roles, most of the cast left a lot to be desired. With no nuance or subtlety to be found, many of the performers were utterly forgettable. Some were even laughably bad, exaggerating lines and movements which may have been passable if delivered in a more natural way. The awkwardness of watching this large group fumble its way through the film is painful, to say the least.
In fairness, Against the Night manages to take the story in a creative direction, the issue is it doesn’t go there until the very end. Seeds of what exactly is happening at the prison are planted once or twice throughout the film, but they don’t provide enough incentive to make viewers want to stick around for the entire running time. The idea, best left vague for anyone who may still want to watch the film, is intriguing and even lends itself to the best visual in the whole movie. Against the Night should have broken the mold with this specific premise earlier on, rather than dawdle for so long with the tired ghost hunting story.
Additionally, Holmesburg Prison is a terribly creepy and oppressive real-life hellscape. The beginning of the film does well to play up the eeriness of its setting, taking viewers through the various cell blocks and listing a few strange facts about the place. While the prison’s overall structure remains an integral part of the story throughout, the interior is not utilized to its fullest extent. Much of the film is spent running up and down the cell blocks in the dark, which makes it difficult to take in the naturally chilling visuals Holmesburg provides. The story could have been tailored to take place at any number of alternative locations, so not to make the abandoned prison and its rich, disturbing history more of a centerpiece is an unforgivable misstep.
Against the Night is yet another example of a film which started out with a decent concept but ended up floundering upon execution. While not the worst choice if one is simply looking for a film to pass the time, viewers will likely find it difficult to overlook the film’s shortcomings in favor of its successes.