Night of the Bastard (2023)

Erik Boccio’s horror survival thriller is a film that sets its foot firmly in the Satanic cult sub-genre. It’s “Straw Dogs” meets “Race with the Devil” but with none of the charm or creativity of the aforementioned. It’s not to say that “Night of the Bastard” isn’t a spirited effort, but the movie spends so much time propping up plot points that it never quite answers, and can also never quite get past the shaky performances and silly dialogue.

Reed (London May) is a recluse who lives in the middle of the desert and whose only friend is his pet Marlon the Turtle. After chasing away campers Kiera (Mya Hudson), Pete (Cesar Cipriano), and George (Philip Rossi) the trio are caught by a Satanic cult that are dead set on completing their sacred ritual. Led by Claire (Hannah Pierce), they chase after Kiera who manages to escape their clutches. But when she makes her way back to Reed, he has to protect her and survive the night as Claire and her followers are intent on getting inside. 

“Night of the Bastard” is a shaky production that thankfully manages to coast by thanks to its limited scenery and small cast. Boccio’s movie wears a lot of its influences on its sleeve with films like “Assault on Precinct 13” and “From Dusk Til Dawn” coming to mind. There’s a ton of back and forth quippy dialogue that lands with a thud, and so much exposition that never quite manages to arouse my fascination at any point. I was too invested in the questions that kept popping up more than the plot progression. Like what the end game for the cult? Were they trying to create an anti-Christ, or some kind of demon? Why was Reed so integral to their entire scheme?

Was Claire aware of the connection she had with Reed or was it a convenient coincidence? If the former, then why did she choose just that night to approach him? Why not catch him off guard? Were the police in on the murders from prologue? In any case, Boccio’s horror thriller is stylistically right in line with the kinds of films he’s aspiring toward, but the entire cast never felt all too convincing. The collective cast gives rough performances, while the only one who comes out ahead is the painfully sexy Hannah Pierce. And she often feels more like a “Power Rangers” villainess more than a menacing cult leader. Chuck Foster and Christian Ackerman’s script is paper thin in premise, relying a lot on the concept to get it through to the end.

The writing team fills up the screen with endless dialogue and clever one-liners, rarely allowing the audience to soak in the silence and or allow the tension to build. Meanwhile the climax feels more abrupt than anything else; Eric Boccio and co. have all the ingredients for one gnarly Satanic horror thriller, they just never quite coalesce in to an entertaining genre entry. It’s a shame because a film like “Night of the Bastard” is right in my wheel house, I just couldn’t click with it in the end.

Now in Select theaters as well as on VOD and Most Digital Platforms.