Neil LaBute directed “FEAR THE NIGHT” | MOVIE REVIEW

“Fear the Night” is a new action/thriller starring the always watchable Maggie Q as Tess, an alcoholic Iraq War veteran who is forced to battle violent and murderous home invaders.

With its well-worn action genre plot in place, the film becomes (occasionally) something more interesting than it should be thanks to its writer/director Neil LaBute.

LaBute was once a major player in the indie scene. The notoriety began with his well-received 1997 debut “In the Company of Men” and continued through such unique pictures as “Your Friends and Neighbors,” “Nurse Betty,” “Possession,” and “The Shape of Things,” his work drawing comparisons to the style of David Mamet. With his blunt dialogue and creative use of vulgarity, LaBute’s writing had a unique rhythm. His films were colored with a skilled command of character and realistic verbal confrontations. Each work had a unique slant that set the filmmaker apart from most of his era.

Unfortunately, his 2006 remake of “The Wicker Man” failed on phantasmagorical levels. Inviting fire from critics and audiences, the film’s failure led to LaBute becoming a “director for hire” of uninteresting studio fare and episodic television. 2022’s erotic thriller “Out of the Blue” was a good but slight return to form.

Now LaBute tackles a thriller with an action slant. While still “slumming” and his razor-sharp cynicism missing, the filmmaker keeps the interest level up for a good while.

Maggie Qi’s Tess is estranged from her family but has been invited to her sister Rose’s bachelorette party, organized by her other sister, Beth (Kat Foster).

As the party moves to the sisters’ childhood home located remotely (of course), we meet their group of friends Mia (Gia Crovatin), Esther (Kirstin Leigh), Brigette (Brenda Meany), and Noelle (Ito Aghayere), each one ready to party and uneasy about the presence of the troubled Tess.

Soon after the fun begins, the women are attacked by bow and arrow slinging Perry (Travis Hammer) and his men. The villains are trying to get into the house as they believe it holds a fortune in cash. Tess rallies the women and uses her skills to survive the night.

Those seeking a female-driven “Die Hard” will find no treasure here. The film has one or two moments where Maggie Q dispenses the baddies, but the script doesn’t concern itself with action set pieces. This is a character tale baked into a thriller.

Wearing her character’s struggles behind eyes masking a deep pain, Maggie Q is quite good as a woman trying her best to maintain. Tess has survived a war and is trying to overcome alcohol issues and the emotional divide between her sisters. As an actress, Q is constantly better than the material she chooses. Tess gives her something to work with beyond her recent action-heavy roles.

LaBute is lite on the violence. While there are deaths and a few moments of blood, the screenplay focuses on Tess’s sibling relationships and how she must not only overcome her attackers, but also navigate unresolved family issues.

“Fear the Night” is suspenseful and tightly controlled, but this is no “B” movie. LaBute finds his tension in the humanistic aspects of the story and in the conflicts within his main character.

While this is a good film and a surprisingly interesting watch, I hope LaBute finds his way back to the more serious-minded fare in which he excels. Perhaps he can take Maggie Q with him on his journey.

Maggie Q in “FEAR THE NIGHT”

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