Credit: Quiver Distribution
by Steven Warner Featured Film Genre Views

Fear the Night — Neil LaBute

July 27, 2023

Writer-director-indie provocateur Neil LaBute strikes again with Fear the Night, the filmmaker’s third feature in less than 12 months. This sudden ubiquity is either a foolhardy attempt to make up for a previous seven-year hiatus or a desperate need to pay off loan sharks, at least based on the quality of these recent efforts. Much like LaBute’s last two films, Fear the Night finds the once revered auteur in low-budget mode, his misanthropic tendencies couched in genre frameworks that, in theory, should make them feel more organic, but instead merely serve to highlight the misogyny that ultimately fuel them. LaBute’s thematic interests have always leaned toward modern-day gender politics, yet this past year has found the filmmaker tackling tales of female empowerment so disingenuous and hollow that they come across as borderline insulting, especially from a man who has proven incapable of writing a three-dimensional female character in his 30-plus years as a playwright and screenwriter.

Fear the Night is no exception, and herein Labute finally attempts the first honest-to-goodness exploitation flick of his career — a remarkable irony, considering every feature he’s directed is fundamentally exploitive. A genre which has little patience for depth or nuance, its characterization and themes painted in the broadest strokes possible, one might assume LaBute has found the perfect vessel for his particular brand of shock value. Yet, against all odds, LaBute manages to mess even this up, presenting a group of female characters who run the gamut from “angry woman” to “angry woman,” with a healthy spattering of “angry lady” here and there just to shake things up. Whoever it is in LaBute’s past that messed him up this badly needs to atone for the work he has been putting into the world for decades.

Maggie Q stars as Tes, an Iraq War veteran and recovering alcoholic suffering from obvious PTSD who wears her bad attitude like a bulletproof vest. As the film opens, she is arguing with her sister, Beth (Kat Foster), who has a major chip on her shoulder for reasons never explained. She constantly scolds and belittles Tes, at one point screaming at her to, “Go have a drink!” Yikes. The two siblings, along with six other friends, are headed to an isolated farmhouse in the middle of nowhere to throw a bachelorette party for a third sister, Rose (Highdee Kuan), who Tes absolutely adores (probably because she doesn’t try to undermine Tes’ sobriety). Save for Tes, all of these women are presented as the very definition of Karens who love to gossip and celebrate wine o’clock, because again, LaBute never met a hateful stereotype about women he couldn’t exploit. While on their drive, the women stop at a liquor store and are accosted by three good ol’ boys so verbally racist and sexist that they somehow make these women seem not so bad in comparison; obviously by design, this development somehow seems too broad even for a slab of exploitation this hackneyed.

It takes Fear the Night nearly half of its running time to finally reach the main event, in which the group of women are held hostage in their rental home by a bunch of masked men in a big Ford truck demanding a treasure of cash that supposedly exists in the attic.  Tes goes into military mode and takes control of the group, knowing that if the men make their way inside, everyone is doomed. In it’s favor, Fear the Night does house its fair share of well-executed gore, checking the primary box of this particular subgenre, yet as competently made as the film is on a technical level, there is not a single moment of true tension to found. The majority of the movie consists of the women incessantly bickering and belittling one another as the night grows darker, and while there’s a sliver of a good genre idea in surveying how flimsy the virtues of sisterhood are once survival mode kicks in, LaBute certainly has no interest in plumbing the depths necessary to achieve real substance.

Fear the Night‘s final ten minutes are especially reprehensible, as a long-winded epilogue exists solely so that the survivors can be shamed and victim-blamed by the white men who hold power. Don’t you see, ladies? LaBute understands your fears, your struggles. He is an ally. So what if he paints you all as wine-guzzling horndogs borderline incapable of making rational decisions? Actually, strike that — the gay characters are able to hold their own, because rather than viewing such characterization as tired trope nonsense, LaBute clearly thinks that’s what inclusiveness looks like. Yes, the director has given viewers a full 90 minutes of this outdated and repugnant mansplaining. He also uses cutesy timestamps to separate each individual sequence, yet is so lunkheaded when it comes to their content and orientation that at one point it’s implied that it takes over four hours for one character to walk down two flights of stairs. It goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway: this is not who should be crafting our tales of female empowerment. Not only should one Fear the Night, but also whatever excrement LaBute unleashes on audiences next.

DIRECTOR: Neil LaBute;  CAST: Maggie Q, Kat Foster, Travis Hammer;  DISTRIBUTOR: Quiver Distribution;  IN THEATERS & STREAMING: July 21;  RUNTIME: 1 hr. 32 min.