Night of the Bastard

Night of the Bastard (2022)

Night of the Bastard had its international première at FrightFest 2022

Erik Boccio’s Night of the Bastard opens in 1978, as Andy (Luke B. Carlson) and his heavily pregnant partner Lily (Avery Joy Davis) drive out to the Californian desert for a baby shower with Andy’s recently moved brother Chuck, Chuck’s wife Michelle and their ‘new desert friends’. There they will quickly fall victim to a group of Manson Family-like cultists, led by the ‘priestess’ Maxine (Talia Martin), who cut the living baby girl out of Lily’s belly and slaughter everyone else. 

Cut to forty years later, and three young friends out camping and partying in the California desert – Kiera (Mya Hudson), Pete (Cesar Cipriano) and George (Philip Rossi) – encounter first the cantankerous local Reed (London May) who insists at gunpoint that they get off his land, and then the next generation of cultists, now led by the priestess Claire (Hannah Pierce), who are every bit as stab-happy as their predecessors, with the older Maxine (Victoria Goodhart) still hovering menacingly in the background. Fleeing the scene with a knife wound in her gut while her friends are murdered, Kiera seeks refuge in Reed’s isolated home, and these two aggressive, damaged people must quickly overcome their differences if they are to survive a night of vicious beleaguerment from Claire and her thuggish underlings, with no idea what or who it is these intruders want.

Night of the Bastard is a siege flick. Like John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski’s The Void (2016), Kevin Greutert’s Jackals (2017), Joe Begos’ VFW (2019), Reese Eveneshen and Gabriel Carrer’s For The Sake Of Vicious (2020) and Walker Whited’s By Night’s End (2020), it shows characters surrounded, trapped and under pressure from a group of outsiders with malevolent intentions. Yet as it follows, step by step, Reed and Kiera’s various efforts to tend their injuries, to locate weapons, to secure a vehicle for escape, and to get to know each other, all regularly punctuated by a series of violent encounters with the cultists, this young absentee mother and older, traumatised man from nowhere must also get to grips with their drifting pasts and aimless futures. Meanwhile their assailants wish to impose a place for both of them in a grander cosmic scheme that might give their otherwise disconnected lives a diabolical meaning. 

Night of the Bastard plays out as an off-grid apocalyptic actioner, but its very title also makes it something of a mystery, to which a series of climactic reveals, delivered by both impressionistic flashbacks and the mumbo-jumbo exposition of logorrhœic Claire, will offer an unexpected solution. For even if the two leads are left with little time to pause and wonder why, and to what end, they specifically are being targeted by the cult, viewers might wonder who exactly the ‘bastard’ is whose night is unfolding. If it is a bastard in the metaphorical sense, then there are plenty of contenders, as both Kiera and Reed are initially gruff and rude and pugnacious, while their devil-worshipping attackers are goons and vandals and literal cut-throats. If ‘bastard’ is meant more literally, it could refer to Kiera (who mentions her mother but no father, and who is herself an unmarried single mother), to the loner Reed (who states that he has no family), or indeed to Claire (whose identity one can easily guess). 

As all the twists are gradually unknotted and the narrative pieces fall into place, what remains is a classic confrontation between good and evil, presented as a close, bloody scrap in the desert, where the mundane and the mythic meet on the horizon, and where even demonic destiny can be damned to hell.

strap: Erik Boccio’s action mystery has a desert-dwelling loner and a young mother beleaguered by a demonic cult

© Anton Bitel