Everyone knows of Xavier Dolan in 2023. But the fact that the young Canadian director made his feature-length debut in 2009 – at the ripe age of only 19 says a lot about him. Essentially, most parts of his debut film ‘I Killed My Mother,’ and many of what followed, were about dysfunctional families, with the issues stemming from ‘mommy issues’ and ‘sexual identity.’ With The Night Logan Woke up, Dolan makes his debut on the long-form storytelling front, allowing the filmmaker to finally expand and deepen the crevices of his favorite themes over a period of 5-sixty-minute long episodes.
Premiering at Sundance under the Indie Episodic category, the first two episodes, titled ‘The Night that Madeleine died’ and ‘The Night that Mireille Reappeared,’ clue us into the disturbing and twisted world that Dolan has conjured up. Dolan establishes a sense of dread from the start as if watching everyday horror unfold.
Adapted from the play ‘La nuit où Laurier Gaudreault s’est réveillé’ by Michel Marc Bouchard, the series switches between two timelines and follows the past and present of the Larouches, a family in Val-des-Chutes, Quebec.
While the first episode introduces all of the characters, it also establishes the show’s overall tone. Dolan, who also stars as Elliot Larouche, the youngest one in the family, doesn’t tell the tale from a specific point of view.
There’s no central character here, although Mireille Larouche (Julie LeBreton), who re-appears after being away from the family, has such a meaty role and a breathtaking screen presence that you seem to focus on her side quietly. Moreover, Dolan’s obsession with needle drops and creating a sense of urgency gives the whole narrative a ticking-bomb feeling.
Consequently, the story in the present opens with the impending death of the family matriarch, Madeleine (Anne Dorval, a Dolan regular), as her sons prepare themselves to grieve for her. Our introduction to the sons begins with Denis Larouche (Éric Bruneau), who is by his mother’s side when we first see her on her deathbed.
Julien Larcouche (Patrick Hivon), her oldest son, is identified as the one closest to Madeleine. But he is also struggling to confront his demons, which have manifested as shadow figures that follow him around. The youngest son, played by Dolan, is to be released from rehab early due to his mother’s condition. However, a sense of unprecedented control looms over him.
An important part of the story also takes us back in time to when the children were younger and Madeleine was running for mayor. The main reason for setting the events in the past is to establish the event that triggered and permanently shattered the family. The titular ‘Logan’ is a neighbor and family friend – a young boy especially close to Julien and Mireille. The event is kept secret because most of what we see happening in the story is based on secrets and how simple things in the family further complicate the proceedings.
Overall, the show feels like a perfect next step for Dolan. It allows him to flex his cinematic muscle to present a well-rounded psychological drama. However, much like his 2016 film ‘It’s Only the End of the World,’ it feels like the show is trying to say something profound but is unable to. It can be attributed to Dolan’s knack for imbuing a Bergman-Esque twist on a fairly straightforward story.
While technically sound, Dolan cannot really come out of the theatrical quality of the play to warrant its screen adaptation. A few sleek transitions and musical cues aside, the only reason the show gets a thumbs up from me is its ability to keep you intrigued with the quality of the cliffhangers it offers. That, and watching Julie LeBreton own every sequence she is a part of, is worth witnessing.