“Although The Night Clerk has promising elements, it ultimately finds itself lacking any sense of direction or action for much of its run-time.”
“Loneliness makes us do things.”-Andrea Rivera, The Night Clerk
It’s this line that encapsulates the central theme of Michael Cristofer’s new film The Night Clerk, which attempts to be an unconventional thriller but ultimately ends up feeling sluggish and poorly contrived. The film centres on a unique protagonist, autistic hotel clerk Bartholomew “Bart” Bromley (Tye Sheridan), who engages in the act of voyeurism so that he can observe the “regular” people around him and mimic their behaviour. He’s set up a complex surveillance system that allows him to watch a live feed from the cameras he’s covertly installed in rooms at the hotel where he works, and even his own home. In one key scene near the beginning of the film, Bart is seen imitating the actions of his mother (Helen Hunt) as she eats her dinner, as well as replaying recordings of the guests talking. The latter of these actions demonstrates how Bart employs echolalia— the act of repeating words back after hearing them— as a device to help him function as less of a societal outcast.
One day, however, Bart is at home watching the screen when he sees something that unnerves him. A woman he checked into the hotel earlier that night, Karen (Jacque Grey), appears to be involved in a physical altercation with a man who she accuses of cheating on her. A panicked Bart drives over to the hotel in the hopes of being able to intervene but before he’s able to act, a gunshot has gone off. Karen is dead, and Bart’s suddenly become the number one suspect in her murder, since he was right at the scene of the crime. Detective Espada (John Leguizamo) interrogates Bart about what happened, suspicious of his social awkwardness and overly detailed alibis from the get-go, which are traits symptomatic of his Asperger’s, while Bart’s mother demonstrates her extreme protectiveness towards her son.
Bart is soon transferred to a different hotel location where his boss Ron (Joey Miyashima) reassures him he’ll be able to adhere to the same schedule, knowing how important routine is to Bart. When another woman, Andrea Rivera (Ana de Armas) checks in at the hotel not long after the events of that tragic night, Bart becomes eager to keep watch over her, determined to ensure she doesn’t meet the same fate. However, things become complicated when Bart and Andrea develop an unexpected close bond. Bart soon finds himself falling for Andrea, despite learning that she’s already romantically involved in an affair with a married man, becoming infatuated with her to the point of obsession.
Even though The Night Clerk attempts a sympathetic portrayal of Asperger’s Syndrome through self-proclaimed “Aspie” Bart, Bart’s mental health often feels as if it is played for laughs. Despite being the protagonist, his Asperger’s is exaggerated throughout the film to the point of feeling like a caricature, and one particular character uses ableist language towards him despite having been shown researching his condition. There’s also a potentially triggering scene involving Bart’s mental health near the end of the film that feels like it was thrown in for nothing more than cheap shock value.
While the film itself leaves much to be desired due to its many issues, which also include uneven pacing, excessive exposition, and overly repetitive dialogue, Ana de Armas’ performance as Andrea is undoubtedly the real standout of The Night Clerk. De Armas lights up the screen every time she appears, bringing an enigmatic charm to the role that elevates an otherwise lacklustre script. She makes it easy for the audience to buy into the fact that Bart is utterly captivated by Andrea after only knowing her for a short time— and not just because the camera often makes her the focal point. De Armas’ performance is convincing even in the subtlest of moments, but when given the chance to drive the film forward by fully committing to the emotional intensity of the scene, she really shines.
However, The Night Clerk feels like it loses the urgency of the main plot by choosing to prioritize the relationship that forms between Sheridan and de Armas’ characters instead of the mystery at its centre, while clunkily attempting to intertwine both plotlines. Because of this choice the film too often feels unnecessarily drawn out, and not even de Armas’ strong performance is able to rescue it from becoming tedious rather than thrilling. Although The Night Clerk has promising elements, it ultimately finds itself lacking any sense of direction or action for much of its runtime. One would think a film with a premise that hinges on the very act of watching would have far more interesting things to show its audience than what’s offered here.
Dir: Michael Cristofer
Prod: Highland Film Group (HFG), WulfPak Productions
Cast: Tye Sheridan, Ana de Armas, John Leguizamo, Helen Hunt
Release Date: 2020
Available on: iTunes, Amazon Prime, YouTube, Google Play