Plenty of films start out slowly, but not as slowly as Alone in the Dead of Night. Matty Castano’s indie horror film, co-scripted with his wife Kristine, really goes out of its way to test the audience’s patience. Virtually nothing of real interest happens in the first half, with the excitement only kicking in around the 45-minute mark. Fortunately, what follows is scary and involving enough to make the lengthy build-up seem worth the wait.
The story is set entirely within the confines of an urban apartment, where severely depressed art student Mallory (Tammie Bergholdt) is recuperating from a knee injury. She’s visited by her friend Gwen (Nicole Dambro), and the two women chat about numerous topics, including Mallory having recently been dumped by her boyfriend. Before Gwen leaves, she gifts Mallory with a necklace she acquired on a recent vacation. Then we watch as Mallory works out for a little while, performs several bathroom rituals, drinks some wine, pops some pills and accidentally drops her cellphone in the bathtub, rendering it unusable.
And that’s when things get weird, seriously weird. Mallory discovers a horrific scab-like grown on her arm, which she proceeds to pick at in disturbingly gruesome fashion. It turns out it was just a nightmare. Or was it? She begins to hear voices ominously instructing her, “Give me what is mine.” She’s attacked by a home invader, who turns out to be her ex-boyfriend playing a joke. Or maybe everything that’s happening is simply all inside her head and she’s gone insane. Or maybe the necklace is cursed.
It’s a thin premise, to be sure, and Alone in the Dead of Night might have been more effective as a short film rather than laboriously drawn out to feature length. But the filmmaker, working with the sort of budget that wouldn’t pay for a decent wedding video, manages to create genuine creepy tension. The menacing figures who eventually show are given such names in the credits as “Stocking Head” (James Hollis III), “The Bald Man” (Justen Naughton), “Marax” (Katie O’Hagan) and, my personal favorite, “Wailing Wendy” (Kristine Castano); suffice it to say that you wouldn’t want to run into any of them if you were alone at night. The special effects are strictly practical, with the scares produced by the highly physical performances by the game supporting players and terrific makeup jobs.
Faced with the daunting task of performing solo for a good chunk of the film’s running time, Danish actress Bergholdt, a striking physical presence, is more than up to the challenge, compellingly handling both the mundane and sensationalistic aspects of her character’s long night.
In the production notes, the filmmaker, who also photographed and edited, says that he was heavily influenced by Alfred Hitchcock. But the pic seems more reminiscent of Polanski’s Repulsion. Either way, he has done his inspirations proud with this modest but impressive effort.
Production company: Beast Mode Pictures
Distributor: Indie Rights
Cast: Tammie Bergholdt, Nicole Dambro, Katie O’Hagan, James Hollis III, Justen Naughton, Katie O’Hagan, Kristine Castano
Director-director of photographer-editor: Matty Castano
Screenwriters: Matty Castano, Kristine Castano
Producers: Matty Castano, Kristine Castano, James Hollis III
Production designer: Rabbit Lagos
Composer: Maxwell Sterling
Costume designer: Gloria Guerrero