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DVD Review: The Night Clerk

April 7, 2020

By John Corrado

★½ (out of 4)

In writer-director Michael Cristofer’s The Night Clerk, a tired and frustrating crime drama that tries and fails to be a modern answer to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, Bart Bromley (Tye Sheridan) is a young man with Asperger’s Syndrome who works the night shift at a hotel front desk.

Bart is awkward and has trouble with social cues, which he only learns by watching other people. To do this, Bart has installed hidden cameras in the various hotel rooms so that he can observe and record the guests in order to learn about their behaviour, spying on them remotely from a row of computer monitors set up in his mother’s (Helen Hunt) basement where he lives.

But things take a dark turn one night when Bart is let off early and heads home to watch the monitors, and sees a woman (Jacque Gray) getting assaulted in one of the rooms. He rushes back to the hotel, only to hear a gun shot when he gets there, and in turn becomes treated as a suspect by Johnny Espada (John Leguizamo), the police detective handling the case, when he is found in the room hovering over her dead body.

Bart, who we are essentially told was a “diversity hire,” is moved to a different hotel owned by the same chain, and becomes infatuated with Andrea Rivera (Ana de Armas), a young hotel guest who shows him kindness and starts seducing him, becoming the latest item of his voyeuristic obsessions. While spying on her, Bart starts to fear that she will be the next victim of the killer who is still on the loose, but the police are also spying on him, trying to find enough evidence to nail him for the murder.

Where do we begin? I hate to employ such an overused term, but there are so many problematic elements with this film that it’s hard to really know where to start. The main problem with The Night Clerk, aside from the film’s almost shockingly poor production values and predictable plot, is that its main character is portrayed as, well, inherently creepy, which plays into an outdated stereotype about autism that is at best naively simplistic and, at worst, offensive and borderline dangerous.

Bart is portrayed as the prototypical loner who lives in his mom’s basement and inappropriately spies on women with little clue how to properly interact with them in real life. Yes, Bart comes to be treated as a sort of “white knight” in the story, but he only witnesses the murder because he is committing a crime of his own by spying on the mostly female guests through strategically placed cameras. While Bart has the footage to absolve himself and prove his innocence to the police, he obtained it illegally so can’t share it with them without having much more explaining to do.

This could have been the basis for a fascinating and challenging work, but The Night Clerk is written in broad strokes and populated by underdeveloped, one-note characters. The film is not well equipped enough to deal with such moral ambiguities and ethical dilemmas, instead using its main character’s diagnosis as a sort of crutch as to why he is viewed with such suspicion. While Sheridan, who produced the film as well, has proven himself to be a very talented young actor, his portrayal of Asperger’s also lacks subtlety and can’t help but feel like a caricature at times.

Armas, who was recently the breakout star of Rian Johnson’s much more clever whodunit Knives Out, has a naturally captivating screen presence, but her thinly written and overly sexualized character here underutilizes her talents. While The Night Clerk is being sold as a murder mystery, there is no real mystery in the film. We, the audience, know from the get-go that Bart didn’t commit the murder, and Espada comes across as inept at his job in his inability to figure this out. I kept wondering, for example, why there wasn’t footage from other, legally placed security cameras in the lobby and main areas of the hotel to help corroborate Bart’s story.

What we are left with is a predictable and clichéd low-grade crime drama that is never particularly thrilling or compelling to watch, building towards a rushed through twist at the end that can be seen coming from a mile away. It’s not a shock that The Night Clerk has gone straight to VOD and DVD, and the film feels tailor made to end up in supermarket bargain bins.

The DVD includes no bonus features, and feels very bare bones in its presentation.

The Night Clerk is a Paramount Home Media Distribution release. It’s 90 minutes and rated 14A.

Street Date: April 7th, 2020

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