★★ out of ★★★★★
The Yellow Night indicated it might be a psychedelic cosmic horror show. Nope! It is a teen-angst movie full of banal and unconvincing dialogue among a group of Brazilian high school grads. And, there might be a cosmic gate in the creepy shed at the beach house they are staying in, but the characters pay it no mind, and neither does the plot.
Directed by Ramon Porto Mota
As I mentioned in my previous review of Skull: The Mask, the other Brazilian offering from the Chattanooga Film Festival, there was one great horror movie and one that was… well… not great. The Yellow Night’s official production summary is:
A group of friends travels to a beach house on an island on the Brazilian seaside to celebrate the end of high school. But their drollery and parties are cut short by the feeling the place shelters an unfathomable horror.Vermelho Profundo
Drollery and parties, this movie has in spades. However, they forgot the unfathomable horror part. Perhaps it was so unfathomable that they didn’t know how to include it in the film.
A group of teenagers, recent graduates from high school travel to an island beach house, owned by Monica’s (Ana Rita Gurgel) deceased grandfather, and is now vacant property, perfectly suitable for teenage beach parties. Lurking in the background is what might be a workshop, or a shed, or a garage, with a sinister door that the movie embellishes with an audible rumble… but for 90% of the movie it just… lurks.
Meanwhile, the teens discuss their histories, and wax philosophically about their futures and how they will never go back to school. They talk dryly amongst themselves about their relationships. They gossip. They… sssnzzzzznnrrrrkkkk. Wait, what? Sorry, I dozed off there. These kids have the most boring dialogues that amount to NOTHING. You tune in to see cosmic horror and you get teens waxing on about existentialism. Not exactly riveting. They do this for about 90 minutes of the movie. Kids don’t really talk like this.
As a teen drama, it also stumbles. The banter is so inane that they fail to differentiate themselves from each other. You know the dialogue isn’t important as we leave scenes where characters are having a discussion, and we still hear them murmuring in the background, the audience having left the conversation altogether. Perhaps this is on purpose, but if so, man, what a drag. Though all the cast get ample speaking time in the film, only one character really stands out.
Rana Sui, as Karina, the goth girl, is the center of attention for the group and for the audience. She is an independent free spirit, and she is fascinated with Monica’s father’s research into quantum physics / astrological mumbo-jumbo. She gets increasingly cynical about her lot in life, and when the girls split from the boys, and the girls joyride (completely getting hammered) in a lovingly restored 70’s muscle car belonging to Monica’s uncle, they end up confronting a bunch of other disaffected teens and have a West-Side Story like showdown with amps and speakers standing in for the dancing. Things get out of hand, but the girls get the upper hand by just being more angsty and angry than their opponents. The boys meanwhile? Still having existential discussions… honestly I couldn’t follow what they were talking about.
Then, we finally get what makes for horror in this movie. All the kids wake up, suffering from hangovers, and Karina has gone missing. Nobody knows where she went, including the audience, so they spend the rest of the day and evening looking for her. They search for another 20 minutes of movie time, until one by one, they start disappearing into a dark void. Panic sets in as the teens search for each other futilely in the night. A mirror reflection of the world manifests inside the beach house adding some confusion to the occasion, and there are indications that some of them are manifesting their souls in one of their peers. And then… end credits.
This very much feels like an art school project. Self-indulgent, and ambitious, and zero feel for pacing, character, and dialogue. I know that it isn’t that I can’t process the subtitles. I had just finished watching Skull: The Mask, which is also Portuguese with English subtitles, and that film had me riveted, and I knew exactly what was going on. The movie was a philosophical statement in search of a plot.
Ramon Porto Mota does have promise as a visual director. This is a stylish movie, to be sure. There are some great moments of visual framing and the movie’s saturated color schemes are effective. The girl’s night out, had an electric pulse running through it. The movie also employed the dull amber hue of low-sodium street lights, to provide some mystery, and thus suggested the name of the film. The de-saturation of color is an apt metaphor for the film, and perhaps this is intentional. Though elegant, it doesn’t help elevate the story to become anything engaging.
Perhaps if you are a fan of Samuel Beckett or Albert Camus, you might enjoy this. But if you are a horror fan, this will be a challenge to find something for you to latch on to. This is the first feature film for most of these young actors, and though there are moments where their teen innocence shows up, there are a lot of times where you feel like you are watching a school play, and the chemistry is stiff, and the flow of the dialogue is mechanical.
I commend the attempt. I think it would have been better as a focused teen drama than a supernatural film. But in the end, this was an intellectual enterprise that got in its own way too often to make a cohesive story. I would like to have reported that I loved everything from the Chattanooga Film Festival, but this film was a chore.
Here’s the trailer. It’s in Portuguese without subtitles. You’re not missing that much.