We are safe and sound so long as we are in our own homes—this longstanding, unspoken notion has been challenged throughout the years by home invasion movies. Terrifying stories of domestic intruders violate both minds and comfort zones. While definitive examples already exist, new entries pop up from time to time. Survive the Night is the latest in these break-in thrillers and wastes no time making itself feel right at home.
Matt Eskandari’s movie begins with a preview of what’s to come—three men perform at-home surgery on an unknown patient. Turning back the clock by several hours, said patient and his brother, Matty (Tyler Jon Olson) and Jamie (Shea Buckner), bask in their $20,000 heist that left a man dead. In lieu of heading to Mexico, the siblings now search for a hideout after wildcard Jamie kills more innocent bystanders, and Matty suffers a gunshot wound to the leg. In the meantime, a doctor named Rich (Chad Michael Murray) is having to file for bankruptcy because of a major malpractice case. He’s moved his wife and daughter into his parents’ farmhouse for the time being. As luck would have it, Matty and Jamie take refuge there. The night starts to feel like forever as Rich is forced to save Matty from his injury, or else his family will pay the price.
Survive the Night differentiates itself from its ilk by feeling more like a random occurrence than a deliberate attack. By that, the villains are not masked marauders with a plan or insatiable sadists on the prowl. They are scared, flesh-and-blood men on the run. The mold wasn’t broken when conceiving these two characters, but their kinship is felt and tender. It would have been easier to have the antagonists be heartless trespassers with only surface-level personalities, but the brothers end up being the most compelling of the cast.
The script oddly makes more of an effort to humanize Matty and Jamie than the victims, who border on tedious. Rich is a disillusioned doctor who has made sacrifices to keep his family together during a rough patch. He is broken down and conveniently rebuilt in under ninety minutes. For their parts, wife (Lydia Hull) and father (Bruce Willis) physically embody Rich‘s disgrace. They’re not painted in the best light at the beginning as they each overwhelm Rich with grief. Although Willis’ character is shown to be apologetic, the development doesn’t feel organic. Anyone expecting Willis to take charge and single-handedly disarm his captors will be sorely disappointed, by the way.
As predictable as the movie is, the performances are largely persuasive. Olson and Buckner share good chemistry, whereas Murray feels invested in the story. He is a competent enough everyman who works with what little he’s given. Willis is unfortunately too stoic for his own good; his delivery comes off as phoned in. The women are thinly written and given little to do other than be terrorized and shot at. The writing in general is stock.
The script’s brisk pacing ensures the audience stays engaged, if not completely unsurprised. A movie of this caliber wisely refuses to linger or dwell when the objective of the story is immediacy. In place of suspense, Survive the Night coasts on plot-driven action. The movie is sprinkled with various shootouts and standoffs; they offset dramatic scenes ranging from almost affecting to wholly awkward. Humorously, gunfire rarely lands even at close range. There is no shortage of blood squibs either, and brief bouts of improvised surgery may induce a cringe or two.
Survive the Night is functional so long as people set their expectations accordingly. The more seasoned viewers will undoubtedly walk away with little recollection of the movie, though. As far as disposable thrillers go, this one sits somewhere in the middle of the room. It’s a capable distraction. Admittedly, the story is too familiar with not only its surroundings, but also its lineage. Narrative beats are routine, and the outcome is foreseeable. However, that predictability is never offensive. All in all, serviceable acting and a fast pace are the biggest strengths in a movie that is otherwise nothing to write home about.
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Review: SURVIVE THE NIGHT (2020)
Survive the Night is functional so long as people set their expectations accordingly. Narrative beats are routine, and the outcome is foreseeable. All in all, serviceable acting and a fast pace are the biggest strengths in a movie that is otherwise nothing to write home about.