Dir. Shreco Bakari (2023)
A young couple, filming their exploits for social media, decide to take a trip to an isolated Air BnB in the north Georgia mountains.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
Shreco Bakari’s first film Maniacal Night opens with a disclaimer, stating that all of the actors within were made to sign a non-disclosure agreement stating that they were not allowed to talk about any real-life events that may have influenced the plot of the film. A voiceover tells us that the events of the film are the most barbaric crimes ever caught on camera in American history, and with that we are off into a found-footage film that follows a social media influencer and her boyfriend who are taking a vacation in the north Georgia mountains for Christmas. They’re setting off without having told anyone where they are going, seeking a private getaway so that they can be on their own without family interference, in desperate need of some peace and quiet as they plan their future together. This will prove to be an unfortunate decision, as they find themselves the victims of psychotic and cruel home invaders.
Found footage has more than run its course within the horror genre, and it is increasingly difficult to come up with a unique concept that intrigues the audience, provides a cover of realism, and does more than cover for a lack of production budget. While the central conceit of Maniacal Night is not particularly different from what the viewer may have previously come across, it does provide a great forum to dissect the relationship between its central characters, as well as to serve as a visual reminder of how removed from outsiders the couple has placed themselves. It also allows stars Cicely Jackson (who plays Kim) and Shreco Bakari (who plays her boyfriend and also directed the film) to shine, contributing a surprisingly realistic performance from two people making their feature acting debut.
The initial NDA warning and voiceover are a bit contrived, as this is certainly not the first time that a filmmaker has promised a “based on a true story” story that is not, in fact, based on a true story. There’s a bit of buildup, as the first 25 minutes of the movie provides character development before the pair even reaches the Air BnB. The character development is fantastic, though, and provides more than enough reason to care about the characters and their fates, as both Kim and Novak are funny, likeable, and compelling characters. Once shit kicks off, the audience is treated to a realistic and terrifying home invasion that is a vacationer’s worst nightmare, as the couple is forced by the masked intruders to play sadistic games in an effort to survive the night.
To be fair, the budgetary limitations are in full display once the villains show up, which does hurt the film as there’s little to no special effects involved and some audio difficulties when the masked intruders talk. Bakari wisely avoids showing much gore, stretching his budget without eliminating the psychological threat of each torture implemented. Thankfully, Maniacal Night is all about the psychological torment, and it all feels ultra-realistic. There’s nothing in this movie that could not happen, nothing that I’m sure hasn’t been done before in real life. The film is mean-spirited and hard to watch, a snuff-film-in-essence that leaves the audience feeling not particularly in the mood for Christmas. In the end, can you ask for much more than that from a brutal Christmas horror movie?
There’s so much to love here from a barebones indie film, as I’ve seen movies with much more recognizable talent and ten times the budget that didn’t have as much of an impact as this one. While it doesn’t hit on all levels and is certainly not a perfect film, it’s about as good as you’re going to get from an indie joint with a tiny budget. Every piece of the film works, delivering a surprising success that will serve as a stellar foundation for the future of all involved. I really enjoyed this one, and this is one that needs a wide audience so that Bakari can get the opportunity to make some big budget scares. He has the talent, and I can’t wait to see what he does next. With his clear affinity for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and other classics of the genre, along with his own feature debut with Maniacal Night, he’s got a great base upon which to build his future filmography.
Who this movie is for: Found footage fans, Holiday horror lovers, Air BnB renters with a death wish
Bottom line: A brutally efficient psychological home invasion thriller, Maniacal Night is vicious and nasty for an indie found footage horror. While it pulls a few punches when it comes to on-screen effects and suffers at times from muffled audio from its villains, it’s still a fantastic watch that will make you clamor for director Shreco Bakari’s next output. The acting is stellar, the terror is real, and this is an incredibly promising movie from all involved. Kudos for making this film, it’s better than expected and kept me on the edge of my seat throughout. Give it a watch if you get the chance, because Bakari and Jackson show that Georgia horror is alive and well.