Sarah Cullen sits down to Alan Dunne’s offbeat short horror film.

It’s evening time in Dublin, November 22, 1996. Our story starts en media res with a woman (Denise McCormack) smoking a cigarette, while looking forlornly out of her kitchen window at the encroaching night. Is she simply tired of another evening in suburbia, or is there something else going on? Her family of four then sits down to dinner, but not until after a sudden title jump-scare informing the audience that it’s 6:00 PM. If this all seems to be a rather cryptic beginning it should be. It will probably prompt you to wonder, just what is it that is causing this rather mundane affair stick out of the ordinary?

Family Night should be praised for the short’s equivocal direction and performances. Writer and director Alan Dunne carefully ratchets up the unease in the first half and lets the narrative play out in a shocking fashion to its queasy finish in the second, with the actors all adding to the claustrophobic atmosphere and sense of desperation throughout.

While there’s clearly something off about this family night – the father of the family (Eoin Quinn) is clearly making his children (Molly McLaughlin and Flynn Gray) and wife uncomfortable with his odd demands – for a time it’s hard to put your finger on exactly what’s wrong. After all, haven’t we all suffered through some awkward family gatherings? Aren’t there plenty of Irish fathers who can be a tad overbearing or overprotective? But as the evening carries on things take a turn for the worse and, indeed, everything is not quite how it seemed. Or, maybe it’s exactly how it seemed all along.

The sense of uncertainty and dread in Family Night is built upon in no small way by the costume, set and lighting design, which drags things right back to the ’90s and into the evening shadows. Indeed, it was an ingenious choice to have the father’s woolly jumper with ridiculous patterns of gloomy greys and greens match the pattern of the house’s carpets in both the living room and stairs: in spite of (or perhaps because of) the short’s horror overtones it maintains its position as a black comedy throughout. After all, we’ve all been there. Family nights, what can you do?




Write A Comment