The Night Clerk is an indie thriller that never lives up to its promise. The film's Hitchcockian themes are established early on. A socially awkward voyeur with Aspberger's syndrome uses his job at a hotel to spy on guests. What follows next is murder, mystery, a femme fatale, and an earnest detective hot on the trail. Sounds juicy right? The Night Clerk is initially compelling, but loses steam considerably as the narrative wanes. A good lead performance can't overcome a weak climax.
Tye Sheridan stars as Bart Bromley, an autistic young man who works the overnight shift at a local hotel. Bart lives with his mother (Helen Hunt), but spends all of his spare time locked away in their home's basement. Bart has installed hidden cameras in a hotel room. He records the guests, then uses the videos to practice social interaction. Bart can't look people in the eye. His shoulders droop. He rambles incessantly at the slightest uncomfortable pause. Bart is desperately lonely.
An intriguing woman (Jacque Gray) checks in unexpectedly late into his shift. Bart returns to his basement and turns on the live feed. He watches her undress, meet a shadowy figure, and die violently. Bart races back to work to remove his cameras, but cannot help his fascination with the blood soaked scene. He becomes the primary suspect. A detective (John Leguizamo) can sense Bart is hiding something critical. When Bart is reassigned to work at a different hotel, another attractive woman (Ana de Armas) captures his attention. He bugs her room as well. His voyeurism revealing a dangerous connection to the murder victim.
The Night Clerk becomes a sympathetic protagonist through Tye Sheridan's wistful performance. Bart could be the poster boy for a creepy stalker. But he never comes off as threatening or perverse. Sheridan successfully portrays the vagaries of autism. His back and forth conversations with the videos show an earnest effort to engage. Bart struggles with processing social interaction. His need to connect is also a weakness to be exploited. The relationship with Ana de Armas' character is based on this flaw. It is unfortunately not written in a believable way. It makes the third act of the film fall apart.
The Night Clerk has a mystery element that flounders. The suspense is supposed to lie in how the women are linked, and Bart's uncovering of the truth. Neither subplots work. Director/screenwriter Michael Cristofer (Gia, Original Sin) has also had a long acting career. Cristofer becomes too enamored with Ana de Armas' beauty, much like his earlier films with Angelina Jolie. He reveals the murderer in the first act to fawn. The seductress card is overplayed in the context of this story. The villain becomes nothing more than a blunt tool.
I also had issues with how the videos never show the killer until the very end. It's not a tease or surprise if the audience knows the killer's identity from the beginning. The visual deceit becomes completely irrelevant. The Night Clerk has an interesting premise and engaging stars, but cannot capitalize on its solid foundation. Tye Sheridan has quietly become one of the best young actors in Hollywood. The Night Clerk is a production of Highland Film Group with distribution by Saban Films.