If you’ve ever walked down a darkened, empty street in your town at some point, and felt that surreal, displaced feeling that all is not what it seemed – not even YOU, then LONG NIGHT IN A DEAD CITY, director RICHARD GRIFFIN’S own peripheral ode to CARNIVAL OF SOULS, will be just what you’re looking for.
Griffin, together with life and producing partner TED MARR, has been the driving force behind Scorpio Film Releasing, his Rhode Island film company that is truly ‘independent’ in every sense of the word. With titles like THE DISCO EXORCIST, STRAPPED FOR DANGER and the ‘you GOTTA see this’-worthy NUN OF THAT, Griffin has focused on entertaining and challenging his audiences for several decades now, even mounting his own unique cinematic reinterpretation of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM. With the introduction of LONG NIGHT, he doesn’t quite stray into the territory that Argento mined with SUSPIRIA, or even the spooky dreamscape of Herk Harvey’s aforementioned cult curiosity, but an area that lies somewhere between the two…maybe sharing a universe with Coscarelli’s PHANTASM on a little less bizarre level that doesn’t feature the flying silver spheres or the malevolent references to Jawas.
LONG NIGHT begins with Daniel, (AIDAN LALIBERTE), waking up in the middle of the street on New Year’s Eve, battered, bruised and confused. He has no idea how he got there, or even – as we first perceive it – any idea of who he is. Some of it begins to come back to him as he wanders the street, fragments of memory returning while he encounters a bizarre cast of characters, many of whom pop in and out of the story with absolutely no warning and no explanation whatsoever. The one constant that he does focus on is this: he was with his brother, Charlie, (ANTHONY GAUDETTE), when whatever happened to him occurred, and he vaguely remembers that at some point he was supposed to reconnect with his older sibling…somewhere.
Of the denizens of this trippy dreamworld with a constantly sinister undertone, only two figures recur with any kind of regularity: Holly, (SARAH REED), a girl he meets who is determined to have him make love to her at midnight, and “The Driver” (AARON ANDRADE), a guy in an unmarked van who conveniently shows up to take Daniel wherever he needs to go, specifically first to an all-night film festival, where things get really freaky. The Driver is one of Daniel’s literal guides, besides Holly, who goes into a bit of an explanation about the nature of Hell…which is where Daniel and the people he encounters might be. Or not.
Steeped in dream logic, LONG NIGHT is similar to a David Lynch film, in that just like with many dreams we have, nothing seems to make perfect sense. Or at times, any sense at all. Rooms that Daniel enters lead to long, narrow hallways, that open out onto…places that logically shouldn’t even be there. A bar he wanders into contains patrons frozen in place like mannequins, and the Bartender (ANNA RIZZO) sadly informs him that this is the place where the lonelier denizens of the city come to have a final New Year’s Eve drink, before going home to end their lives. Is she the Angel of Death? A spirit somehow damned to this existence as penance? There are no answers forthcoming, as with most things about this movie.
Again, like Lynch, LONG NIGHT isn’t so much a “Choose Your Own Adventure” setup as it is “choose your own reality.” If Heaven and Hell only exist in our minds and truly are what WE decide, instead of what we’ve been taught, then director Griffin and scripter LENNY SCHWARTZ have left it up to the audience to decide where Daniel is…and even what he is. Is he dead or alive? Shifting between planes of existence? And even when it seems we get some answers to how he and Charlie ended up here in the first place, can we believe that IS the definitive answer? Or whether or not Charlie even exists, and that (shades of FIGHT CLUB) he and Daniel are the same person?
Viewers who decide to venture in will have one of two reactions to LONG NIGHT IN A DEAD CITY: they’ll either be completely bored out of their skulls with the film’s stoic refusal to deliver anything linear on a silver platter, or they’ll decide to go with it and see where it takes THEM, as much as they try to follow it. For my own taste, I give it two-and-a-half out of five stars.