I feel I need to start this review explaining why I chose to review this film and not Mute when both are on Netflix and the latter is more well-known and would probably bring me more clicks.
Recently, I tried to watch about 15 minutes of Mute and had come to the conclusion that I would have to be paid to continue watching it to write a review. That is when I decided to watch a lesser known, smaller budgeted 2017 horror film called Nightworld starring Robert Englund and Jason London of Dazed And Confused fame.
Why do I prefer to watch movies like Nightworld? Because, to me, it’s like an adventure. Sure—it could be bad. It could be more than bad—it could be downright awful. But it could also be weird and wonderful and full of the types of raw idiosyncrasies that I will always remember. (spoilers to follow)
Continuing a long tradition of these types of indie horror flicks, Nightworld was filmed in an Eastern European country & has worked the locale in as part of the plot. London plays Brett Anderson, an American transplant in Bulgaria who gets hired to be the night watchman at a sketchy old building. Brett’s past includes working for the LAPD & killing a teenager in self-defense, as well as having his Bulgarian wife commit suicide. So Brett has…issues.
But as London plays him, he starts off blandly amiable and extremely (extremely) low-key—sort of passively just walking into this weird job without really questioning anything. Suspicious-acting employers, bizarre basement room full of computers and monitors that look like they belong in the 1970s, an even weirder anachronous door beyond that covered with pagan symbols and Enochian seals…you would think any of these things would ring bells for him. I mean, it feels pretty much like he’s being prepared to be a victim in the Hostel franchise.
But Brett soon begins to have visions and nightmares, anomalous stuff shows up on those monitors, and the blind former night watchman Jacob (Englund) shows up at his doorstep. And of course there’s your bit of metatextuality, as the guy who played Freddy Krueger shows up in a film about nightmares and “dark dimensions.”
Englund delivers his usual crisp performance, as a kind of “mentor” to Brett. Brett himself does seem to initially be set up as “the chosen one” (overlay your Matrix comparisons here, there will be more to come) who will finally defend the outer world from the undead hordes of the Nightworld. A backstory is told of several of these “gates” throughout the world that need defending, almost as if a sequel or series is being set up.
But long story short…Brett kind of fails. In the movie’s big climax, when everybody ventures into the Nightworld to stop the hordes, he falls under the spell of one of the creatures disguised as his dead wife. Because of his wavering at this crucial juncture, his new girlfriend Zara dies, just adding to the list of unresolved guilt he has had to carry in his life.
While the Nightworld hordes are prevented from spilling over to the land of the living, the end of the movie feels a little nihilistic and bleak anyway. Brett, covered in blood, is sitting on the pavement outside of the building with the dead Zara in his arms. These sinister-looking men in black suits—the Men in Black, or Mr. Smiths, if you will—just carry her body off and inform him that he needs to come with them.
Brett ends the movie just as passive as he was at the beginning—not knowing what the hell has just happened, and completely helpless. He’s just lost his girlfriend, best friend (who stupidly visits the building), his potential mentor Jacob—and his job! This is a person whose failure to process the tragedies in his life has led him to attract only more tragedies. He ran away from his problems in America to only find new ones in Bulgaria. And he has just left one set of shady employers (the building guys) only to find even shadier new ones (the men in black).
Chilean director Patricio Valladares does a decent job here, reminding me of those Mexican horror movies of the 1960s. You know: creepy & surrealist on a budget. A representative Valladares scene would be in the climax with the sudden reveal of the Nightworld zombie horde. I mean, these peeps look just like a bunch of Bulgarian extras they found around the neighborhood, but they are also strangely unsettling and even “realistic”; think more the ghouls of Carnival of Souls than Night Of The Living Dead. And while there are a few gory moments, they certainly don’t “drive” the film as much as the general creepiness does.
While London spends half of the film so passive he almost seems drugged, as soon as the horror hijinks ensue, he snaps 180 degrees into this massive face-shaking eyes-popping double-take that feels weirdly genuine and is in itself a somewhat surrealist element.
And of course, there’s also the aspect of the movie scariest of all—London’s my age and I remember him as this young dude in the Nineties and ergo: holy crap I’m OLD!!!! What a horror movie indeed!