Ryder takes on the lead role in Gone in the Night and makes you want to see what happens to her dazed protagonist, Kath, who is randomly searching for Max (John Gallagher Jr.), her spacey boyfriend. Max disappears shortly after he and Kath vacation in a remote cabin in Northern California, where they are ambushed by a mysterious couple: Al (Owen Teague), who is grumpy and aggressive, and Greta (Brianne Tju), who is horny (for Max ) and provocative. Max and Greta pair up after the two pairs trade some unsettling prelims and even more awkward icebreakers, so Kath leaves without her guy. But Max never returns, leading to Kath inexplicably chasing after her clueless, unfaithful partner. She begins by contacting Barlow (Mulroney), the reclusive owner of the cabin. Barlow quickly joins Kath to track down Greta, who in turn leads the pair to the next plot point, and so on.
Max’s disappearance raises a relatively simple question that complicates each successive scene with new information, like when we start seeing flashbacks to a house party that took place just before Kath and Max’s ill-fated cabin visit. Eventually, the relationship between Kath and Barlow becomes the main focus of the film, and this narrative shift at least clarifies the kind of story Derby and Horowitz chose to tell.
Barlow, whose name is reminiscent of a certain Stephen King character, is a Gen X fantasy: he wears flannel, has a lot of money and doesn’t like to talk about himself. Max, on the other hand, is a walking anti-millennial argument: he’s hypersensitive, has vague notions of authenticity and living in the moment, and wears vintage and/or limited edition clothing. Kath is stuck between these two standard characters, and while she’s clearly interested in finding out what happened to Max, she’s also drawn to Barlow, who is sturdy, handsome, and humble.
Unfortunately, Barlow and Kath’s relationship is almost as sporadic as Max and Greta’s edgy affair. In the film’s press release, Horowitz admits that he was very fortunate that Ryder and Mulroney agreed to star in Gone in the Night, since those two key roles appear to have been written for them. But Kath and Barlow are just as interesting beyond this casting coup.
You can kinda see what’s missing from Gone in the Dark when Kath and Barlow go on a surveillance mission to find and confront Greta. They don sunglasses and pass the time talking about what really motivates them: They’re both alert and have turned this manhunt into a futile search for their lost sense of youth. This sort of existential midlife crisis may sound intriguing, but the film’s plot still hinges on a disappointing secret surrounding Max, an obnoxious supporting character.