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How the Winona Ryder film Gone in the Night tackles fears of aging and Airbnbs

Gone in the Night has all the trappings of a classic thriller: A woman in peril, a mysterious disappearance, and a spooky house in the woods that holds more secrets than a Real Housewives reunion. Yet what makes the film, out now in theaters and on streaming, work so well is just how quiet and unsettling it is. The movie takes its time to build suspense, and its climax reveals deeper themes tackling family and mortality.

That’s due largely to writer/director Eli Horowitz, who utilizes a great cast led by Stranger Things star Winona Ryder and an unsettling location (his own home, which he occasionally rents out!) to create the perfect midsummer creeper. In an interview with Digital Trends, Horowitz talks about why he chose Gone in the Night as his first feature film and why it’s part of a wave of recent Airbnb/house rental horror films.

Digital Trends: You previously directed the Homecoming podcast and produced two seasons of the Amazon series adaptation. What made you write and direct Gone in the Night?

Eli Horowitz: It was partly just the challenge of it. I always like to play around with new forms so this was just an exciting new medium to try. But then once I dug in, it was an opportunity to do a thing that didn’t really fit into any category or genre. I wanted to make something entertaining that also indirectly wrestles with some of my own questions about getting older and holding onto youth for as long as possible.

A man and a woman stand next to each other in Gone in the Night.

This is your first full-length feature film. How did you approach working in a medium that’s relatively new to you?

It was a challenge. At first, I literally Googled how to direct a movie and I read books and I talked to director friends to prepare. It helped that I co-wrote the script with my friend Matt [Derby], so I knew the material really well, but I just wanted to have as much prep as possible: page by page, line by line, scene by scene, shot by shot. I knew that would all help me because once you’re shooting, that’s when it’s easiest to panic. As a director, I had a lot to learn, certainly. But in terms of this story, I was the one who knew it best in the world, so I could always at least rely on that.

Did you have any films or directors in mind to serve as inspirations when you started writing and directing this film?

There are definitely kinds of movies that we talked about a lot. One was this Danish-Iranian movie from a few years ago called Border. I really admired the way that it played with genre and was sort of this noir fairy tale but also entirely its own thing.

Another very different film that I like is 10 Cloverfield Lane, which also had John Gallagher Jr. in it. I like movies that are smart about understanding the viewer’s expectations and playing with them and trying to stay one step ahead as opposed to just stringing them along.

Speaking of John Gallagher Jr., Gone in the Night boasts an impressive cast of established and up-and-coming actors. How did they become involved with this movie?

Well, it all started with Winona Ryder, and that was basically a fluke. I just wrote her a note to her manager and we sent the script. And then four days later, I was in bed and I got this text from an unknown number and it was her saying, “Let’s do it.” So that was certainly an unexpected fortune.

And I think once we had her, the other dominoes fell quickly. Dermot Mulroney and I had worked on the TV adaptation of Homecoming, so I knew he would be kind of a great partner. both during the scenes themselves and just on set when we weren’t shooting.

John Gallagher Jr. is just so good in everything he does and so easy to work with. And then the two younger actors, Brianne Tju and Montana Story‘s Owen Teague, just blew me away with their professionalism, energy, and enthusiasm. It was really great to work with all of them because it was fun to see all these different people at different stages of their careers.

Winona Ryder stand next to a blue car in Gone in the Night.

Gone in the Night is part of a recent wave of Airbnb/house rental horror thrillers. We had The Rental in 2020 and soon Barbarian. What is it about tapping into that specific fear of the suburban unknown that’s so appealing to you and to a variety of filmmakers?

I think part of the reason is because there’s this weird leap of faith involved in walking into someone’s space and pretending like it’s normal and it’s ours. Of course, it’s not our property, and there’s so much we don’t know that we just choose not to think about.

With Gone in the Night’s central home, there’s a special resonance because it’s mine. Ten years ago, I bought this little cabin in the woods, fixed it up with friends, and I rent it out sometimes through Airbnb. I think I get to claim extra credibility among my peers in this subgenre because of that.

What was your favorite scene to film?

That’s a good question. I think I really like a lot of the scenes with Owen and Brianne because they were so fun to work with, so energetic and full of ideas. And they were also just so weird. Their scenes were the kind of pulpy vignettes where we didn’t always have to worry about these super deep themes. Instead, we could focus on how their characters were these forces of nature. It was fun seeing how strange you could make them.

Gone in the Night | Official Trailer (HD) | Vertical

Without giving too much away, the film gradually reveals deeper themes about mortality. Was that important to you to have this genre picture deal with more than just delivering thrills?

Yeah, I think so. The best movies of this kind are when they’re tapping into a deeper fear. You know, the thrills that are on the screen aren’t just that guy’s got a scary face or that’s a lot of blood, but it’s tapping into something that we’re actually always worried about on a deeper level outside the bounds of that movie.

So that’s what I tried to tap into, partly because it’s something I think about myself. It’s a universal experience of worrying about mortality, whether or not we’re sort of obsessing over it or in denial about it. It’s something that everyone has to have their own take on or their own series of takes on to get through the day, the year, and the decades.

We were very conscious of having each of the different characters in the movie sort of be wrestling with that in their own way. All the things the characters experience are, in some sense, about the denial or embrace of death.

After watching this movie, it’s safe to say that I don’t think you’ll ever be able to rent out your house again.

[Laughs] Maybe if they want a memorable experience with fake guns and stuff, they can rent it out.

Gone in the Night is currently in theaters and is available on demand. 

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Jason Struss
Section Editor, Entertainment
Jason is a writer, editor, and pop culture enthusiast whose love for cinema, television, and cheap comic books has led him to…
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