Among Netflix’s recent new film offerings is the crime thriller, “The Night Clerk,” and its description and indie stature is just the find you might hope to be something akin to 2014’s “Nightcrawler.” Unfortunately it takes only a short while into its 90-minute running length to come to terms with those hopes being dashed.
The story revolves around an Aspergers-afflicted 24-year-old Bart Bromley (played by Tye Sheridan) who is a night shift frond desk manager at a small motel. He secretly records his interactions with guests via hidden cameras both at the desk as well as in their rooms. The film seems to be trying to sell that his sole motivation in doing so isn’t for prurient reasons, but so that he can practice his interactions with normal people to better improve his condition.
A guest is murdered in one of the rooms, and suspicion quickly falls on Bart. Detective Espada (played by John Leguizamo) quickly suspects Bart, but Helen Hunt appears on the scene as Bart’s mother, Ethel. Ethel promptly browbeats Espada into letting her son go, with a loud proclamation of, “he’s a very fragile boy.” While it makes sense that Hunt could stare down a whole squad room, Ethel has rather less ground to stand on.
Add in a new motel guest, Andrea Rivera (played by “Knives Out’s“ Ana de Armas) and things rather plod along in a whodunit, where the film seems to be unsure if it wants the audience to think Bart did it, or if it was clearly someone else. Unfortunately while writer/director Michael Cristofer has some solid adaptions under his belt, such as 1987’s “Witches of Eastwick,” original writing and building of coherent tension might not be his strong suit. The Detectives don’t seem the least bit interested in pursuing the case and discovery of cameras in the rooms seems dropped as soon as they’re discovered. We never really wind up caring if there’s another killer, and worse yet, neither do we really care if Bart did it, either.
The cast’s performances are all solid, with Hunt being as amazing as ever, and Armas proving that she’s going to have a long and impressive career. Unfortunately they’re never really given much to hang their performances on. Each actor is giving it their all and trying to imbue their roles with the impression of being less than a caricature of a Noir archetype.
Sheridan’s performance perhaps makes it worth watching to see how he reaches for a behaviorally-challenged individual’s performance. However beyond that, unless you’re really wanting a low-thrill thriller, this one might be a pass.
“The Night Clerk” is Rated R, and is currently on Netflix.
Rating – 1.5 stars out of 5