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New to Netflix - THE NIGHT CLERK

the night clerk review
A night clerk at a motel witnesses a murder, then becomes the prime suspect.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Michael Cristofer

Starring: Tye Sheridan, Ana de Armas, John Leguizamo, Helen Hunt, Johnathon Schaech

the night clerk poster


A pair of committed central performances by rising stars Tye Sheridan and Ana de Armas can't elevate this shoddy thriller from writer/director Michael Cristofer. It's 19 years since Cristofer last directed a feature film (2001's Angelina Jolie vehicle Original Sin), which makes it all the more odd that The Night Clerk suffers from a script in dire need of a rewrite or two.

Sheridan is Bart Bromley, a young man whose Aberger's has held him back socially. Employed on the 8pm to 4am shift on the front desk of a struggling urban motel, Bart has rigged up several of the establishment's rooms with hidden cameras. Bart isn't your typical voyeur however. He's not spying on the guests for any sexual kicks, but rather to study how they interact socially, copying their phrases and mannerisms, much like Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation.


the night clerk review

Bart's mother (Helen Hunt) may or may not be aware of her son's voyeuristic tendencies, and she seems to ignore the bank of screens in his basement dwelling, which he uses to remotely watch his guests while off duty. One night, Bart witnesses a female guest, whom he checked in just before finishing his shift, receiving a beating at the hands of a man she sneaked into her room. Bart hops in his car and rushes to the motel. After he enters the building we hear a gunshot and find Bart sitting next to the bloodied corpse of the woman.

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Did Bart fail to save her, or did he pull the trigger? investigating detective Espada (John Leguizamo) seems to believe the latter is most likely, especially when he discovers a mini-SD card containing footage from one of the cameras Bart quickly removed from the room. Guilty or not, Bart becomes the prime suspect. It's not all bad for Bart though, as Andrea (de Armas), the pretty young woman who checks into his motel, appears to be taking a romantic interest in him, something Bart is unaccustomed to.


the night clerk review

The Night Clerk has the makings of a successful thriller - a moody setting and a morally dubious protagonist and femme fatale - but Cristofer's script is dogged with narrative inconsistencies and too often asks you to overlook unlikely behaviour on the part of its characters. For a start, it's impossible to accept Bart being able to continue working while he's the chief suspect in a murder at his workplace, not to mention having been exposed as a Peeping Tom. Yet here he is, back behind a desk getting hit on by a sultry female guest.

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The Night Clerk gives us a late twist that fails on two levels. Anyone remotely familiar with the machinations of the thriller genre will have seen it coming from the moment a certain character enters the film. But more annoyingly, it doesn't square up with how earlier scenes were presented. One of the benefits of watching movies at home is the ability to immediately rewind to earlier scenes in order to call out a filmmaker's poorly conceived attempt to pull the wool over our eyes. When the twist arrived, I instantly called shenanigans. Winding back to a specific point confirmed that the twist made no logical sense, as a certain character wasn't privy to the required information necessary for them to set their grand plan in motion.


the night clerk review

It's a shame that Cristofer's house of cards collapses so spectacularly with his pathetic attempt at a twist, as despite the blandness of his direction and the inconsistencies of his plot, I was still somewhat on board, thanks largely to Sheridan and de Armas' awkward but endearing chemistry. Sheridan's performance occasionally strays a little too close to Simple Jack territory, but he does a fine job of enlivening a rather one-note caricature.

Characters with disabilities usually fall into one of two camps, either patronisingly designed to elicit sympathy or so often in the case of psychological conditions, cheaply exploited to prey on our fear of the "other". Sheridan's Bart ticks both boxes, and I'm not entirely sure it was necessary for him to have Asberger's. Wouldn't it be a more interesting and morally nuanced movie if Bart was simply a voyeur, a man guilty of one crime who finds himself accused of a far worse offence? 

The Night Clerk is on Netflix UK now.




2020 movie reviews