Dark Night (2016)

Dark Night first published by RealCrime Magazine

Dark Night opens with a close-up of a woman’s eye, lit alternatively in blue and red. For a few instants, that image and those colours promise the heavily stylised sensationalism of the Italian whodunnit genre known as giallo – before it becomes clear that the bright lights, far from being lurid mannerism, are flashing from a police car, and that the wide-eyed, dazed-looking young blonde (Ciara Hampton), dressed in a top significantly emblazoned with the Stars and Stripes, has witnessed a horrific incident. 

Though the rest of the film is shot with near documentary naturalism, and follows six people going about their ordinary day, it still serves as a sort-of whodunnit – and whydunnit – of a particularly American crime that will be committed later that night. There are early hints of what is to come in both the punning title, and in a background TV news item about the real-life trial of James Holmes, who in 2012, dressed as the Joker, shot 12 people dead and injured another 70 at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado. 

Shot in Florida with actors whose characters share their names, Dark Night is neither documentary, nor dramatisation of the events leading up to an Aurora-style massacre, but rather a dreamy slice of life that casually shows a society in cross-section and a tragedy waiting to happen. 

We are also kept guessing which of the male characters will explode. It could be Aaron (Aaron Purvis), the sensitive, bullied, fatherless teen who defends first person shooters while fantasising about being in the news. Or the army veteran (Eddie Cacciola) who cannot cope with the presence of his wife and young son, and who seems happiest cleaning his arsenal of guns or firing them off at the shooting range. Or the VG-playing skater boy (Andres Vega) who gets his hair dyed Joker orange. Or the angry student (Robert Jumper) who does not seem quite right in the head. Between them, these men paint a portrait of violent fixations, gun ownership, extreme alienation and mental illness – all potential precursors to a horror foretold. As for the two Latinas (Karina Macias, Rosie Rodrguez) who work in the mall supermarket, and the selfie-obsessed wannabe actress (Anna Rose Hopkins), statistics dictate that these female characters are likely to be victims, whether among the dead or the traumatised survivors.

Writer/director Tim Sutton (Pavillion, Memphis) pays homage to Elephant (2003) – Gus van Sant’s lyrical reconstruction of the Columbine shootings – through his similar use of distancing wide shots and tracking shots, although Sutton, unlike van Sant, eschews any onscreen depiction of the shooting itself. The result is an anatomisation not so much of a real crime as of the sociopolitical circumstances that engender it. 

© Anton Bitel