Writer: Megan Jones
Director: Alex Lightman
The phrase ‘filmed during lockdown’ has come to mean quite different things, from recorded Zoom events to activities captured on phone cameras to casts working in bubbles to create new movies. Now, writer Megan Jones and director Alex Lightman create another meaning with their film Night Book that applies high production values to a choose-your-own-adventure scenario.
Trainee interpreter Loralyn is asked to negotiate a sale between a French businessman and an English bookseller. The antique text in question is in an ancient language which Loralyn is also learning. When she verbalises a few lines as part of the transaction, strange things begin to happen as the spirits demand the return of their island.
Created to experience on gaming platforms as well as PC and Mac, Night Book was filmed to comply with social distancing regulations across three locations captured via Zoom, although you wouldn’t know it. And while Night Book is built around some traditional horror concepts – ancient curses, demonic possession and avenging spirits – the video game format and the quality of the visual experience lifts the material to create an engaging reinterpretation of these tropes.
The interpreter frame offers a novel basis for a domestic demon drama while the permanent connection to the Internet and smart technologies draws the plot strands together, providing a wider international context. It plants Loralyn’s experience in a wider story while simultaneously creating a claustrophobic experience for a character trapped in one location with no means of escape.
Jones and Lightman’s vision places the viewer entirely inside Loralyn’s laptop through which we connect to her messenger chats with boyfriend Pace and boss Cody, her incoming notifications and documents which the game gives you the option to read, as well as her webcam and security footage within the flat which create flows and narrative development. Lightman moves between these different formats skilfully to immerse the viewer in the drama, connecting the power of the ancient ritual with crackling interference in modern communication tools.
The adventure can last an hour or more depending on the choices you make for Loralyn, and the more direct you want her to be with other characters the sooner the story is resolved, although there are more elaborate paths to take. The plot and its outcomes are not particularly surprising and the subplot with Pace and the land belonging to the ancient civilisation is a little underdeveloped, but the mechanism for realising these activities on screen more than makes up for it.
Julie Dray really anchors the film as Loralyn, establishing the context around her character at home alone, caring for her disorientated father (Mark Wingett) and a novice translator being essentially haunted. It is convincingly done and Dray uses the technology well to support her character’s developing fear, along with a determination to resolve it even at the expense of her clients Colin Salmon and Jonathan Cullen who are suitable antagonistic, if too easily convinced as the respective buyer and seller of the magical ancient text.
As an experiment in creating a movie under lockdown conditions, Lightman ensures you never see any of the compromises the production has had to make, and Night Book is a seamless experience both as a film and a continuous adventure game in which the fate of a young woman haunted by deadly spirits is in your hands.
NIGHT BOOK is released on 27 July on Steam (PC & Mac), PS4, Xbox One, Switch and iOS.