Changed from its original title, “The Cow,” Gone in the Night is a strangely compelling dramatic mystery… until it’s not. Co-written and directed by Eli Horowitz (creator of Homecoming), the film stars Winona Ryder as Kath, a woman in her late 40s dating a younger man named Max (John Gallagher, Jr.) The story opens with the couple on their way to a remote Airbnb Max has rented. Upon arrival, they discover there is another couple already staying there.
Owen Teague plays Al, and Brianne Tju plays Greta as the disaffected young duo, clearly moody about the fact two strangers have just shown up. But seeing Kath and Max stuck in the middle of nowhere, Greta takes pity on them and offers that they can spend the night. After a rousing board game where the couples have to reveal secrets to each other and Greta flirts shamelessly with Max, Kath goes to bed only to wake up and find that Greta and Max have run off together.
Once she returns home, Kath is in no mood to deal with Max but starts to wonder about Greta. She eventually calls the Airbnb owner Nick (Dermot Mulroney) to try and get Greta’s info, and before you know it, the two “meet cute” and begin a stakeout to find her.
To be absolutely fair, up until this point, Gone in the Night is fairly fascinating, both as a mystery and as a comment on aging in today’s society. Max is constantly referencing Kath’s age – probably as a way to comment on the fact that he knows he’s dating someone older and feels a bit embarrassed by it. Also — because he’s a clueless man-baby. But he’s not the only one. Al and Greta bring up Kath’s age a lot too (they should only be so lucky to look as good as Ryder does at her age), and it’s pretty affecting to watch Ryder play the reaction to all of these slights.
Here is a woman just trying to live her life and make something of her later years, but society keeps reminding her that she’s old and, as younger people like to assume, clueless about the world. The fact is, Kath has been there/done that, so these kids might want to pay a bit more attention. As a commentary on how age is perceived in society, the script by Horowitz and Matthew Derby is spot on. Kath feels invisible and like she doesn’t matter. Every younger character treats her like an idiot, and you can feel her longing to get away from it all and enjoy life alone.
The problem is that Horowitz enjoys a twisty plot, and Gone in the Night provides one. For better or worse. It’s impossible to know where this film is going, and that’s one of the things that will keep audiences invested. As the film begins to flashback, we start to unravel the onion of machinations going on, and things become a bit clearer. Still, the final act knocks the audience on the side of the head, spinning them around into a collective “huh?”
To say the final reveal is disappointing is an understatement. Motivations seem to alter the characters and the logic of what is going on is stretched really thin. It’s like you suddenly know the truth but then immediately check out, which isn’t great.
However, there are some great things here. Ryder is one of them.
To be transparent, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Ryder ever since she graced the screen in Beetlejuice. While her turn in that comedy classic and her iconic role in Heathers made her a star, I was never wowed after that. Sure, I saw her movies, and something is appealing about her, but I always felt her “acting.” I’ve never really bought her as the characters she has played because I could always see her “playing” the role.
Here, she really embodies Kath and brings a deep layer of hurt, exhaustion, and depth to her. This is a woman who has a reasonably successful career and a group of friends her age, but has suffered a bad marriage and doesn’t appear to have any children. She’s lonely and, in a sense, aimless. Her journey working through her relationship with a younger man, being treated poorly by generations beneath her, and her connection to someone more age-appropriate is well-scripted and well-played by Ryder. In a way, I’d almost like to see a movie that simply focused on that journey, without all the thriller machinations.
That said, I was gleefully going along for the ride for a while. Sure, audiences will know nothing is as it seems, but you can’t predict where it will go, and that was one of the film’s pleasures. If only it had stuck the landing.
Gone in the Night works for a while, but then, like its title, it seems to vanish along with its plausibility.