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The Night Logan Woke Up ★★★★



Director: Xavier Dolan

Cast: Xavier Dolan, Julie LeBreton, Magalie Lépine-Blondeau, Eric Bruneau, Patrick Hivon, Julianne Côté, Anne Dorval

Released: Sundance Film Festival 2023

Xavier Dolan has been described by many monikers, ‘Enfant Terrible’, ‘Indie Darling’, ‘Prodigy’ and he is back with a bang after his 2019 film Matthias & Maxime, to direct The Night Logan Woke Up as his first television series. Set in Lac-Saint-Jean, Quebec, the series is based on a play by Michel Marc Bouchard, whose material was previously adapted by Dolan. The Night Logan Woke Up (La Nuit Où Laurier Gaudreault S’est Réveillé) shows a remarkable return to form for Dolan, perhaps best known to Francophone audiences and as a director of some of Adele’s music videos. It is a riveting, tense thriller about a family secret unleashed 30 years after the family matriarch’s death, played by Anne Dorval, a regular in Dolan’s films.

Dolan is essentially an ‘auteur’ given that there are actors with whom he frequently works and the ‘mummy issues’ theme running through most of his films. Additionally, Dolan will often adopt the joint roles of actor-director. In his films, his penchant for emotionally exploring the human condition, combined with a dramatic score alongside vibrant pop music needle drops, form part of his signature style. Many of these elements have successfully transitioned to the smaller screen, and whilst The Night Logan Woke Up embraces a grim subject matter, cinematic beauty is still contained in its filming style. Dolan’s new series has been highly anticipated, and the first two episodes, with an English language version, excitedly premiered during the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.

Dolan seems to follow in the footsteps of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks to bring a quirky interpretation to a small community’s activities interspersed with horror tropes. The death of a prominent member understandably disrupts Whilst the Larouche family’s dynamic; Dolan revels in revealing the distinctive elements of the individual personalities within the household and their respective relationships with grief. Furthermore, each member seems preoccupied with their internal challenges to which the audience is made complicit, thus adding to the overall intrigue of the series. Dolan’s voiceover introduces the family members, but the audience is provided with further interwoven voyeuristic insight typical of Dolan’s oft-brash style. The eldest, Julian, seems to have difficulty communicating with his wife and so finds solace elsewhere; the middle son, Denis, appears to be the rock for everyone but seems anchorless. Dolan plays the youngest, Elliot, who is troubled and counting the days along his sobriety journey. And then there is their estranged sister Mireille who adds to the disruption when she unexpectedly returns to embalm their mother.  

An underlying tension and unsettling narrative, therefore, creeps in throughout the historical flashbacks, which create an unexplained unease; Dolan intuitively knows how to get under the skin of his audience whilst showcasing his best work for years. Still, Dolan takes the opportunity to use stylish, slow-motion scenes of washing billowing and people running in the rain. Those familiar with his work may recognise such striking elements from his earlier material. Dolan loves demonstrating his stylistic flair within such subverted scenes of everyday life. The Night Logan Woke Up, however, carves itself out from Dolan’s films with a practical, sinister tone that permeates.

Within these initial episodes, Dolan skilfully emphasises the deception of appearances, as we never truly know what lies beneath the surface of people’s lives, where even disrupted paperwork looks romantic under his direction. The re-appearance of Mireille, played by an effortlessly cool Julie Le Breton, proves to be that disrupting force. Yet, Dolan teases hints of underlying trauma from Mireille’s past. Dolan’s masterful direction shrouds these episodes in a compelling aura of mystery, providing just enough substance to entice audiences and leave them wanting. Mireille’s mere entrance into a bar unveils a degree of ostracisation. It is equally an uncomfortable set-up of ghoulish objectification as all eyes are on her with Dolan’s enthusiastic use of wide-angle shots and camera panning. In so doing, Dolan silently provides that social commentary on provincial attitudes.

The Night Logan Woke Up certainly builds up an intriguing premise from the outset with nuanced dynamics and a surreal atmosphere. It is a whimsical, dramatic world in which the full impact of Dolan’s unleashed creative flair can be felt with a weird and fantastic tone. Plus, having such a superb ensemble cast, many of whom appeared in the original play as the source material, adds to its appeal. These engrossing episodes are Dolan’s winning formula, which will undoubtedly ensure that audiences will seek more than the initial five episodes created. Despite being slow-paced, The Night Logan Woke Up is a beautiful way to experience the unfiltered magical effect of a Dolan production.

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