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Out at Night [Christopher Hewitt, UK, 2020]

Before reading on, here’s some friendly advice: the next time you are out late and alone, make sure you’ve pre-arranged for somebody you know to pick you up. And, for crying out loud, stay away from the woods! They are certainly pieces of advice that the characters could afford to heed in Out at Night, Christopher Hewitt’s taut and genuinely creepy horror short. It always amuses me that the only people that never seem to have watched a single horror film in their lives are the victims in horror films themselves. Meanwhile, the rest of us scream at them with sadistic delight to re-think their questionable decisions, as we look on curled up behind a cushion on the couch, and the characters meet their inevitable fates.

Out at Night bears all the hallmarks of a classic horror-thriller, our protagonist, Will, finding himself walking alone on a cold, wet evening, his luck going from bad to worse as a passing driver speeds through a puddle, splashing him and soaking his hand-rolled cigarette. Things begin to get especially creepy as the driver stops, backs up, and offers him a ride home, a proposal loaded with illicit machinations. With some financial coercion, Will is persuaded to join the driver, Martin, in the car. The two lead performers here are particularly sensitive in a moment that, although escalating rather quickly, nonetheless requires the intelligence and bravery to pull off without histrionic signifiers or overt affectedness.

Do be afraid of the dark!

The action between the two men is interrupted, first by a phone call, and then by all the more scary and mysterious noises coming from the nearby woods. Here, things go from seedy and creepy, to just downright scary and monstrous as the sounds become louder, stranger and more frantic.

Beyond the performances, the success of the film is due largely to efficient editing and inventive production design. The pay-off of the film is rewarding due to the moderate pacing of its first act, trusting the patience of the audience by not giving anything in the way of exposition or backstory, and allowing the unfolding action to provide enough logical cues along the way, whilst the sound and make-up effects work incredibly to increase the tension and terror in opportune moments.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable, well-crafted film, and a commendable collaborative effort. Notable touchstone references are worn on its sleeve, including An American Werewolf in London [John Landis, UK/USA, 1981], Let the Right One In [Tomas Alfredson, Sweden, 2008], and The Descent [UK/France, 2005], proving Hewitt and his crew to be well versed in horror cinema and placing Out at Night in great company.


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