‘Gone in the Night’ takes the woodsy horror theme to a strange but forgettable place

Winona Ryder stars as the mystified traveler who inexplicably makes many dumb decisions.

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A romantic getaway for Max (John Gallagher Jr.) and Kath (Winona Ryder) doesn’t go as planned in “Gone in the Night.”

Vertical Entertainment

One thing I’ll say for the Winona Ryder horror film “Gone in the Night,” it sure doesn’t follow the usual playbook about a couple that rents a cabin deep in the woods. To be sure, it turns out to be a REALLY BAD IDEA, but the twist here is so creatively perverted and strange and bizarre that David Cronenberg might approve. Alas, there’s just not enough gristle and gore on the bone of this story to make for a memorably haunting viewer experience.

Originally called “The Cow” (for hilariously dark reasons I won’t reveal), “Gone in the Night” opens with Ryder’s Kath, a horticulturalist and professor, driving with her boyfriend of the last year, the younger Max (John Gallagher Jr.), from Oakland to a remote cabin in the woods, mostly because Max has been teasing Kath about never wanting to do anything spontaneous and fun. (Max considers himself to be a liberated free spirit, but he’s more of a douchey millennial who still gets upset about almost losing his favorite hat even though he’s in his 30s, not 7.)

Before the couple is even out of the car, we have our doubts about the longevity of this relationship, and we wonder how long Kath can put up with this insufferable clown. The weekend getaway hits a major road bump when they finally arrive at the cabin — only to find it’s already occupied by a young couple named Al (Owen Teague) and Greta (Brianne Tju), who are wearing shiny green rain slickers even though they’ve been inside the house. Al looks and sounds like a castoff member of the Manson Family, and Greta is annoyingly hyper, and everything about them practically screams, “DANGER!”

‘Gone in the Night’

Untitled

Vertical Entertainment presents a film directed by Eli Horowitz and written by Horowitz and Matthew Derby. Rated R (for language throughout and brief bloody images). Running time: 90 minutes. Opens Friday in local theaters.

Turns out the Airbnb has been double-booked, and there isn’t a hotel within miles, and of course there’s no phone service. When Al and Greta invite Kath and Max to spend the night, Kath says, “Are you kidding me? You’re both quite creepy and you’re wearing rain slickers as if you’re just dismembered a body in the bathtub and we don’t know anything about you? Thanks but no thanks. Let’s go, Max!”

I’m kidding. We wouldn’t have a movie if that had happened, so against all logic, Kath and Max agree to spend the night. This leads to a Game Night sequence that includes Greta essentially performing oral sex on Max’s elbow, I kid you not, and shortly after that, the exhausted Kath goes off to bed like a mom, leaving the three younger adults to drink up and laugh, almost as if they’re laughing at tired ol’ Kath.

Kath wakes up in the eerily quiet cabin (the production design and cinematography are first-rate throughout the film), wanders out into the woods and finds Al distraught and by himself. He tells Kath he caught Max and Greta hooking up, and they just took off — vanished into the night. Kath doesn’t question this dubious story and returns home, but she becomes semi-obsessed with tracking down this younger woman who has stolen her younger man. (Our obsession with age is a consistent and increasingly heavy-handed theme in this story.)

Enter the charming and craggy-faced Barlow (Dermot Mulroney, who co-starred with Ryder in “How to Make an American Quilt” back in 1995), the owner of the cabin, who agrees to help Kath find Greta and find out what happened to Max. Director/co-writer Eli Horowitz indulges in an overabundance of time-hopping and viewpoint-changing, as we see certain events from Max’s perspective and gain some not particularly deep insights into the nature of the relationship between Kath and Max.

Time and again, the screenplay forces Kath, a woman of education and intelligence and substance, into making some fairly dopey decisions. When she makes some pretty big discoveries, she’s often satisfied with surface explanations, even when we’re practically yelling at her to go the extra mile. Once the Big Reveal comes, well, as we told you at the outset, it’s admirably bat-bleep crazy, but the payoff is almost unintentionally funny. The efforts to make some sort of larger statement about a gorgeous, successful, considerate, bright woman of 50 feeling like she’s being put out to pasture fall short as well. Despite the star performance by Winona Ryder and an intriguing setup, “Gone in the Night” is destined to fade quickly from our memories.

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The location shots are beautiful and lush, and the strong cast includes familiar veterans along with some greatly talented relative newcomers.