First Night (2014) – By Kyle Hytonen

In the short thriller First Night, two young roommates Alex (Sandra Foisy) and Vero (Andree Saliba) are trying to have a quiet night in their small apartment. As is usually the case, their next door neighbour begins pumping his loud music through the walls way too late into the night. The last straw is broken, Alex decides to call the police and put in a complaint.

The police who take that call seem to have an agenda of their own. The trio, consisting of the sullen Rich (Robert Verret), silent but deadly Moses (Alexander Wheill) and loud mouth JP (Matthew Saliba) are not quite the serve and protect type. They arrive at the apartment complex, and take matters into their own hands in dealing with the noise complaint by killing the neighbour in cold blood. Then the officers knock on the door of the roommates. The film then delves into a small stand-off between these corrupt cops and the innocent roomies.

Writer/Director Philippe Bourret sets his short in a very claustrophobic location with the majority of the film taking place inside the room-mate’s apartment. As the five main characters all culminate in the film’s second act, the tautness is ramped up as the geography inside the apartment clenches. Bourret along with actors Andree Saliba and Wheill hold nothing back in creating a very dark and unnerving sequence involving a very horrific sexual assault. The sequence becomes very hard to watch, an accomplishment that not only helps propel the tension but showcases passion of the craft in the eyes of director Bourret and these particular two actors. The desire for these actors to bare all, both pejoratively and literally, for the film was quite engrossing and makes the scene all the more uneasy.

For each moment that the film began to drive through convention there were however a few things that drew back from making this short work on all levels. Lead actor Matthew Saliba teeters his cocksure JP with a very heavy handed performance that doesn’t hold up at all throughout the film’s 29 minute run time. Reciting long monologues does not give actors credibility, nor does it help when your delivery is so hammy. Matthew Saliba never understates the nastiness that his character has; he allows it to surface much too quickly and then proceeds to hit the same note for the duration of the film. In the hands of a much more nuanced actor, this character should have had way more impact on the overall tone of the film and the story. Some of the action scenes near the film’s climax did not have the impact the script itself contained, and the lack of technical prowess in these scenes was unfortunately lost from page to screen.

First Night is a solid entry in the “home invasion” genre, and although some of the performances fall into the trappings of low budget film-making, it is a very interesting and dark piece that doesn’t allow a viewer to be let off easily. The film speaks about corruption and desires that sometimes can be given to those in a position of power, and the repercussions to the innocent around. The final two shots in the film were very powerful and spoke to me that these themes should be touched upon and expanded by director Bourret in future works.