Quickly becoming one of the country’s finest auteurs, Kazakh director Adilkhan Yerzhanov has emerged rather quickly as a premier force in the country’s cinematic output scoring international releases and acclaim for several of his previous projects. Now finally releasing his fifth opus, “Nochnoy Bog,” or internationally known as “Night God”, is screening as part of the 2019 edition of Fantasia International Film Festival.
Arriving in a small desolate town, a man (Bajmurat Zhumanov) and his son (Aliya Yerzhanova) find that the living conditions are no different there than anywhere else in the world around them. Forced to stay when they get involved with the locals, they find that the residents have become drained of their will to live by their fear of an omnipresent Night God lurking over them ready to descend the world into a full-on apocalypse. Tormented by their beliefs and fearing that the end is coming sooner than they realize, the bleak surroundings and harsh atmosphere of the village force everyone to brave the elements to keep the malicious being at bay.
Generally speaking, there isn’t a lot to like about “Night God.” One of the most impactful and immediate aspects to be found here is the striking technical work from director Yerzhanov, who manages to imbue the film with a striking visual quality. The fact that the entire film takes place during the apocalypse in an abandoned town in the middle of nowhere is a stellar choice to enhance those qualities. The cold, eerie landscapes of the village, caked in darkness with light only coming from natural candles and scored with constant water dripping loudly nearly, creates a generally successful air of unease and dread in the environment. The long camera-takes and silence permeating the air around them effecting selling the idea of the isolation and darkness felt in the world presented here.
That said, there are a couple of major issues here. The main problem is that “Night God” is so dull and dreary that most will be bored out of their minds and not willing to sit through the film’s technical merits. There’s so little activity present in the film despite all the omnipresent atmosphere present as what’s happening boils down to long-winded speeches and dialog about the pain of the situation without doing anything. It’s mainly consisting of actors with a pseudo-serious tone speaking vagaries about the meaningless aspects of life around them in a singular style featuring no change in intensity or urgency. Combined with a lack of activity, this leaves the film feeling technically accomplished yet devoid of any real excitement.
As well, that also manages to highlight how plotless the actual film is. Writer/Director Yerzhanov creates a world about people living in a cruel desolate environment constantly complaining about something coming for their lives or endless scenes of people wandering around this village without much else going on. There’s no visible threat posed by the God as we never know what his purpose is, if it’s out among the people or why they’re worried about its presence on the whole. The fact that its nearly impossible to determine character relationships to each other, much less names since no one is even credited here, means everything really makes no sense and is generally confusing overall.
Being stylistically a treat to watch but not doing anything else interesting for the most part, “Night God” is a curious case of an exemplary showcase for director Adilkhan Yerzhanov’s talents but very little else. Really only see this one if you’re a true fan of these arthouse-style genre films or of the director’s previous works, while those looking for a film far different than that should outright avoid this.