Dark Night: EW review
We’ve been watching the evolution of entertainment’s obsession with true-crime stories—from the cha-chunk of headline-churning Law & Order episodes to the more artful examinations of The Jinx and Making a Murderer—for decades. But even as major cases (OJ Simpson, the Boston Marathon bombing) continue to flood big and small screens, America’s epidemic of mass shootings somehow remains a cinematic third rail. Though Dark Night is one of the few films brave enough to attempt to change that, it’s hard to imagine that many people will see it; director Tim Sutton’s shoestring indie, loosely inspired by the 2012 Aurora movie-theater shooting, is far too moody and quixotic for a mainstream audience. But it’s also a haunting, thought-provoking piece of work, made infinitely more powerful by all the things it chooses not to show.
Working almost entirely with first-time actors, Sutton gives his movie a drowsy documentary feel, cutting between seemingly unrelated characters—mostly anonymous young people moving through their ordinary routines in the sunbaked torpor of Southern Florida, like lazy fish through water. There’s an undeniable debt to the elliptical dreaminess of Gus van Sant in Night’s fragmented narrative: long, dialogue-free stretches are punctuated by the distant bark of a dog or a turtle splashing listlessly in its terrarium; the ambient noise of skate parks and support group-meetings and Walmart-esque superstores only occasionally blossoms into real conversation. (Though composer Maica Armata is never seen, her husky, plaintive voice and lonesome guitar strums are perhaps the movie’s most consistent thread—snapping scenes suddenly into focus, then receding.)
But slowly, what seems like tedium begins to tighten into something vaguely menacing, surging steadily toward outright dread. What do they have in common, this selfie queen posing haltingly in front of her bathroom mirror, the Iraq war vet with a vein pulsing steadily at his temple, the sulky misfit playing video games, the dead-eyed kid eating chocolate-chip cookies in an empty kitchen? By Night’s final moments you’ll know—not because you’re watching it unfold onscreen, but because by then the movie has crawled inside you. Hours later, it’s still there. B+