By SHAWN MACOMBER
Starring Amelia Dudley, Taylor Turner, and Greg Schweers
Directed by Erik Bloomquist
Written by Erik Bloomquist and Carson Bloomquist
Modern pop horror has waited a long time for its own Ingmar Bergman to arrive, and in Erik Bloomquist, it might finally have an auteur equal to the mantle. From the beguiling, hyper-stylized psychosexual thriller LONG LOST (2018) to the wild rock ’n’ roll vampire romp TEN MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT (2020) to this year’s affecting rom-com WEEKENDERS, the actor/writer/director has proven himself an unusually versatile and deft storyteller able to imbue wildly different plots with enough of an idiosyncratic voice to create a coherent body of work out of what superficially seem to be extremely disparate parts.
Bloomquist’s latest, the perfectly executed supernatural thriller NIGHT AT THE EAGLE INN—co-written and produced, as usual, with his brother Carson—cleverly marries haunted house/hotel iconography to a gonzo yet creepily believable vision of hell as a sort of pyramid scheme. This is filtered through the relationship between two horror-film-literate siblings who learn the hard way that past trauma can evolve and become its own separate monster once liberated from your own psyche; seek it out and awaken it at your own risk.
The basics: Spencer and Sarah Moss (the perfectly cast duo of Taylor Turner and Amelia Dudley) journey to the titular establishment seeking the truth about why their father mysteriously disappeared from the very same establishment the night they were both born. Prematurely, incidentally, with their mother dying from sepsis—sheesh! (The parents, to demonstrate how far back the aforementioned iconography reaches, were named Mary and Joseph.) From the jump, it’s clear this Vermont inn is pretty damn far removed from NEWHART: The proprietor (Greg Schweers) is a straight-up freak, the ruggedly handsome groundskeeper (Beau Minniear) is an existential philosopher and though the place is supposedly sold out, there ain’t another soul in sight. Out of sight, it soon becomes clear, many souls may have checked in but never checked out. And so down the rabbit hole we go, the layers of reality falling back one by one as if damnation were an onion the film is determined to peel.
Actually, that leaves NIGHT AT THE EAGLE INN sounding far too dour. Part of the brilliance of Bloomquist and co. is how they are consistently able to navigate admirably profound waters with vim, vigor, heart and humor. This film will make you feel, think, laugh and—at some of its twistier moments—gawk in disbelief. “The inn attracts the wayward,” the groundman intones at one point, “those who have lost their way or are searching for something.” “Great!” Spencer cries, after hilariously meta-teasing that THE TWILIGHT ZONE did a certain supernatural pummeling better. “We love a spiritual death trap!”
Clocking in at an extremely lean 70 minutes–one trend from past decades that hasn’t made a comeback, but absolutely should–NIGHT AT THE EAGLE INN hasn’t one unnecessary frame. It quickly brings its fully realized characters to life, sets the stakes—and then raises them again and again until the final reveal. That velocity works in its favor, never letting us drift or get caught up in any narrative roundabouts.
Which, when you think about it, is precisely how the devil operates—channeling you quickly toward ends you believe to be your own before the inevitable realization dawns that you are caught up in a larger drama than your own. Bloomquist could, it seems, have made a very good devil; we are blessed that he instead chose to be a great filmmaker.