Promising Shudder Horror Night's End Gets Caught up in Its Own Seance

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Promising Shudder Horror <i>Night's End</i> Gets Caught up in Its Own Seance

The typical “there’s something in my house” horror story is age-old, but for some reason, we can’t stop ourselves from retelling it. For all of our loyalty to tradition, it’s fun to see how these narratives take on the contemporary to subvert what we can usually expect from your typical ghost story. I was intrigued with Night’s End, which leans its story into the world of content creation and YouTube. The set-up gave me a reason to give this trope another shot. What I found was a host of beautiful, calculated visuals and the presence of an unsettling antagonistic spirit, but not enough to overcome its poorly developed lead or campy conclusion.

Night’s End follows Ken Barber (Geno Walker), a quiet shut-in who, while trying to build a successful YouTube channel as a means for work, discovers his run-down apartment might just be haunted. He enlists a charismatic and mysterious mystic to perform an exorcism on his living space—but that proves to have far worse consequences than anyone imagined.

While the story Brett Neveu’s script tells is interesting to a point, it’s delivered by a bland protagonist with a bland life. This sometimes works really well if the mundane is juxtaposed with some really heightened climax. However, Night’s End doesn’t exactly end up going balls to the wall, so Walker’s smart acting choices and subtle spiral into what appears to be a battle with mental illness (as well as menacing specters) doesn’t hit nearly as hard. The film definitely has a palpable supernatural denouement, but it descends into something with just enough of a gaudy edge that there isn’t nearly as much power behind it as it hopes to have.

Ken also isn’t particularly likable—which isn’t necessarily a reason to write a character off, mind you, but he doesn’t give us any reasons to care about him or what’s going on in his home. Walker gives a great performance, but something doesn’t quite click. The culprit seems to be Neveu’s command of character: The disconnect between the characters on paper and the actors’ capabilities is pretty staggering. The cast brings a lot to these roles to try to fill in the gaps.

Despite Ken’s quiet discord, the film touches on something really compelling through him: The horror of being a content creator and a person who exists online. It’s a miserable existence for a vast majority of people who make up the backbone of sites like YouTube and TikTok. You know, the people who aren’t clocking hundreds of thousands of views on every post or video. You feel the pain of that struggle through Ken. He’s a textbook example of this type of driven and dedicated creator who, realistically, should have more success than they do. The film also highlights the other side of the coin, a quite literal view of the demise of a creator who finally gets the spotlight they so desperately desire—and the message is clear and concise, no matter how kitsch the delivery ends up being.

And, though director Jennifer Reeder’s Midas abilities are incredibly strong—whatever she touches turns into a special kind of visual gold, with freaky horror imagery throughout the film—the lovely movie’s climax becomes high camp. At first full of calculated shots that make great use of angles and lighting, and pulling in unique and sometimes deliciously subtle ways, the Knives and Skin filmmaker’s finale undermines things. I love a bit of camp, but I don’t particularly love a bait-and-switch. I actually really enjoy how campy the horror becomes in the film, I only wish it would’ve followed that aesthetic throughline from the start. The film’s big bad, the omnipresent thing in Ken’s home, is unassuming and shrouded early in the film—and it would have done well to either keep some of that dread and mystery throughout or just go full-throttle camp from the start. It would’ve hit harder had a lane been picked.

There are some promising elements in Night’s End, things like Walker’s performance and the decision to build the story within a digital age framework seemed to be harbingers for a really fresh take on the haunted apartment story. But the standout element is really Reeder’s directorial eye, which I’d love to see paired up with a more polished screenwriter’s fierce and unique horror vision in the future. She has incredible visual skill and her gorgeous imagery was almost wasted on these half-developed characters. Night’s End might be a cautionary tale about our preoccupation with revitalizing clichés, but it proves we have a rising horror star in Reeder. In my eyes, that’s a win for the genre, camp or not.

Director: Jennifer Reeder
Writer: Brett Neveu
Stars: Geno Walker, Felonious Munk, Michael Shannon, Lawrence Grimm, Daniel Kyri
Release Date: March 31, 2022 (Shudder)

Lex Briscuso is an entertainment, film and culture writer who eats, sleeps, and breathes exceptional horror, sweeping dramas, and top-notch acting. She is a news desk writer at /Film and has bylines at FANGORIA, The Guardian, Shudder’s The Bite and EUPHORIA. Her horror radio show, YOUR NICHE IS DEAD, is live Mondays 5pm ET. She tweets @nikonamerica.