Written by Garrett Brown – April 27th 2021
Originally published by Film Inquiry
In the early 2000s, one could hardly watch a DVD without the infamous “You Wouldn’t Steal a Car” PSA informing you about the dangers of digital piracy. With music and graphics seemingly ripped from the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater video game franchise, the PSA postured aggressively to present piracy as anything other than a victimless crime. The PSA itself was well-positioned for ridicule, parody, and let’s be honest, it probably made digital piracy look even cooler and punk.
One almost wonders, however, if the main characters of the film short Movie Night should have listened to that warning against bootlegs. Written and directed by Matt Rosenblatt, Movie Night follows Chris and Rachel on a first date, an evening that includes watching a bootleg copy of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. (It should be also mentioned that due to an error, Night of the Living Dead is technically in the public domain, so I guess it’s “technically” not a bootleg.)
NOT A GREAT FIRST DATE
Rachel (played by Natali Jones) wants to leave but is convinced by Chris (Skeeta Jenkins) to relax and enjoy the film. As it starts, the footage begins being interspersed with footage of graphic murders, including people who appear to be murdered while watching Night of the Living Dead. As Chris and Rachel try to understand what is wrong with the movie, things start to go wrong.
The obvious shortcoming of this film short is in the writing. The film has only a short amount of time to deliver the story, so it tries to squeeze as much in as possible, asking the audiences to make leaps of logic to understand what is happening. When creating and shaping mysteries in horror, a film has to make sure to walk a fine line: even if events remain unexplained by the end, there has to be some resolution in the story that makes watching it satisfactory for the audience. In this aspect, Movie Night doesn’t fully deliver.
However, what Movie Night is missing in the story, it more than makes up for it in atmosphere and craft. For instance, a lesser filmmaker would use Night of the Living Dead as a narrative crutch, coasting on the horror masterpiece’s thrills and chills instead of its own. Instead, Rosenblatt remixes Night to amplify and highlight the best scares in their film. Night becomes a diegetic soundtrack, filling up a house that is hauntingly big and empty but at the same time somehow small and cramped. The best moments are when Rosenblatt focuses on the irregularities, a couch that seems massive becoming inescapably small in sequential shots.
For my money, the best moments are the use of space: never before have I considered how terrifying an open concept floor plan could be. As Rachel sits on the couch uncomfortably, the pan of the camera reveals that her date is staring at her over the counter in the kitchen. On this date, there is no privacy, and nowhere to run.
Movie Night has its weak points, but I think the craftsmanship is enough of a reason to view it. And who knows, maybe now you’ll think twice before pirating a bootleg movie.
What is the best first date movie? Comment below!
Movie Night can be watched now on Vimeo.