REVIEW: ‘Saul at Night’ is Artistic Sci-Fi

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Saul at Night - But Why Tho

Saul at Night is a dramatic and unsettling film directed by Cory Santilli, written by Daniel Miska, and available now on-demand. A mandatory bedtime has been instituted, putting everyone to sleep at exactly 10 pm and waking them up at exactly 6 am every day. Except for Saul. Saul (Kentucker Audley) is only awake during the sleeping hours. He never gets to see his wife (Stephanie Ellis) or daughter (Suzanne Clément) while they’re awake, and they never get to see him. It’s only notes in a basket to wake up to each day for each of them. But it turns out, they chose this arrangement.

It’s a crushing premise on two fronts: the family trauma, and the creepy thriller of this mandatory curfew and Saul’s arrangement during it. There’s a great deal of exasperation dripping from each of the three members of Saul’s family at basically all times, pooling up in a bath of anxiety because you just have no way of knowing whether there’s an ounce of hope that anything will ever change. In Saul’s nearly ceaseless free time, he stages a play in an abandoned theater using the likenesses of his family members, with whom he occasionally converses in moments that just feel sad.

But then there are the times when his ankle bracelet beeps and he’s forced to return to an undisclosed location to take some pills, chat with a computer screen, and go back to his misery. There’s little explanation for what goes on in those moments, why this came to be or how it will come to pass. But in the end, it’s the tension those question build that makes Saul at Night the great, artistic film it is, rather than any answers it does or does not offer.

The movie is most adept at building that atmosphere, in addition to its characters and their circumstances, through its sound and visual design. The score is constantly intense, almost always active and quiet at just the right moments. But it’s not just the tense score, it’s also the beeps of Saul’s handler, the dim and dismal lighting during the waking hours, and the sunrise as Saul rushes back to his house before the alarm goes off night after night.

I have been likening Saul at Night to some of the absurdist or thriller plays I have seen my friends put on in and post-college. It has this heir of a stage production to me in the way that things are blocked out and scripted. I would love to see a version of this movie done on a stage. Yet, there’s something about the sound and lighting that can only be captured in a movie that are quintessential to the tension built.

Oh, and also, Saul, as it turns out, isn’t entirely alone. He happens to run into another participant in the twisted experiment keeping him awake at the wrong hours, Amalur (Suzanne Clément). She only speaks a handful of words in English, but the two quickly find solace in one anothers’ mere existence anyway. Or, at least, they do at first. In a terrible but ingenious twist on your expectations, it actually seems to be almost worse having somebody else around with whom you can barely communicate that constantly reminds you of the partner and kids you desperately miss.

It’s devastating watching Saul especially, but Amalur as well unfurl throughout their nights together. An especially poignant scene when Saul has totally spiraled had me quite upset, just feeling so sorry for his circumstances and the unfortunate way he ends up coping with it. It’s not an overly-complex sci-fi story; there’s no complicated lore or heady concepts. Just enough to trigger the plot and unravel everyone involved to the point of great discomfort and upsettingness.

Saul at Night matches a simple but challenging premise with astute sound and visual design to produce a strong, tense dramatic sci-fi-thriller. You may leave with more questions than answers, but it’s the emotional weight that the whole film bears that will keep you lingering on it well after the credits roll.

Saul at Night is available now on-demand.


Saul at Night
  • 8.5/10
    Rating - 8.5/10
8.5/10

TL;DR

Saul at Night matches a simple but challenging premise with astute sound and visual design to produce a strong, tense dramatic sci-fi-thriller. You may leave with more questions than answers, but it’s the emotional weight that the whole film bears that will keep you lingering on it well after the credits roll.