The Night Logan Woke Up (La nuit où Laurier Gaudreault s’est réveillé), sees French Canadian auteur Xavier Dolan continue to explore the complex and compelling relationship between mothers and sons, following his auspicious 2009 debut feature I Killed My Mother (J’ai tué ma mère) and his breathtaking 2014 Cannes Jury Prize-winning masterpiece Mommy. The entire series has already aired in Canada and France, but only the first two episodes received their US premiere in the Indie Episodic Program at the 2023 Sundance Film festival, so I just have those to go by for this review.
Adapted for the screen by Dolan from a stage play by Tom at the Farm (Tom à la ferme) playwright Michel Marc Bouchard, Dolan also directs all five episodes and stars as the troubled Elliot Larouche, the youngest of four adult children who we gradually meet as they gather around their dying mother Madeleine (Anne Dorval). Elliot has been released from rehab, where he’s met by his brother Denis (Éric Bruneau), who’s also on edge, troubled by his dreams. He’s a hoarder living in a chaotic apartment, separated from his ex-wife and their teenage daughters. The third Larouche brother, Julien (Patrick Hivon), has got himself sober and is attending college, but is anxious and distracted as he sits in a creative writing lecture. Saying that he respects his wife Chantal (Magalie Lépine Blondeau) too much to sleep with her, after class he visits a sex worker he’s been seeing regularly on the way home.
It’s autumn in Québec 2019, and a storm, both literal and figurative, is brewing. Secrets long buried in the past are exhumed, as the action shifts back and forth 28 years to 1991, offering us fragments of the family’s history, and the reason that Mireille (Julie LeBreton) hasn’t seen her brothers for 25 years. With her back in town to embalm her mother Madeleine’s body, we begin to see glimpses of the night when a 14 year-old Mireille, infatuated with her brother’s friend, let herself into his family home and bedroom. It’s unclear what transpired, and exactly how Julien was involved, but whatever happened continues to reverberate in all of their lives. In the second episode, there’s a delicious darkly comic scene, that turns darker by the second, of a Larouche family Christmas dinner back in 1991 not long after the consequential incident, where we begin to learn more.
Dolan creates a rich, rivetingly suspenseful atmosphere, and even before the opening credits there’s a gripping and enigmatic scene as we witness what appears to be an anti-LGBTQ+ hate crime, with a man left shirtless on the street under a burning pride flag by two hooded figures. As far as the mystery goes, there’s a good balance of details being revealed and withheld that keeps things intriguing without being frustrating. We spend time with each layered character, getting a sense of their perspective on the family drama as it unfolds.
The lead cast, featuring several actors who have appeared in Dolan’s other work, is fantastic, offering captivating and nuanced performances. There are memorable turns in smaller roles too, as we encounter some of the characterful locals, injecting more humour and contributing to a tone not dissimilar to HBO’s Mare of Easttown. Dolan himself is engaging and unsettling as the intense and tightly wound red-haired Elliot, who we see self-harm in a distressing scene in order to create a cover story for himself as he falls off the wagon. Clearly close with his mother (she had him at 40 as a second chance at motherhood after it hadn’t turned out well with the first three), as Elliot sits beside her on her deathbed, Dolan offers restrained, deeply affecting work that tells us a lot about their relationship without dialogue. Chantal as Magalie Lépine Blondeau is terrific too; think a Québécois version of Julia Davis’ Jill in Nighty Night meets Alison Steadman’s Beverly in Abigail’s Party.
Dolan has proved himself to be an expert at using music to enhance an emotional sequence, bringing added depths and meaning out in both the track itself and what’s happening on screen, like the extraordinary use of Ludovico Einaudi, Dido, and Lana Del Rey in Mommy for instance. In The Night Logan Woke Up, not only does Dolan have a stirring score by Hans Zimmer and David Fleming at his disposal, but in the opening episode there’s an inspired and moving use of Rufus Wainwright’s version of Quand vous mourez de nos amours.
With shades of Twin Peaks, this haunting family drama is right up there with Dolan’s finest work as a filmmaker. Shot by his frequent collaborator, veteran cinematographer André Turpin, the series looks stunning too as it moves from naturalism to some unnerving nightmarish horror elements. I’m already hooked and looking forward to seeing how things play out over the remaining episodes.
By James Kleinmann
The first two episodes of The Night Logan Woke Up (La nuit où Laurier Gaudreault s’est réveillé) received their US premiere in the Indie Episodic Program at the 2023 Sundance Film festival and will have further in-person screenings on Thursday, January 26th, Friday, January 27th, and Sunday, January 29th. The episodes are also available to stream on demand via the festival’s online portal. For more information and to purchase tickets head to the official Sundance website.