85 minutes | No MPAA rating
Tim Sutton’s “Dark Night” is about a mass shooting at a shopping mall cinemaplex.
Unlike Gus van Sant’s 2003 “Elephant,” about a Columbine-style high school massacre, “Dark Night” never shows us the mayhem.
In fact, the bulk of the picture’s 85-minute running time is devoted to depicting the activities of a handful of Floridians, most of them teens, as an average day wends its way toward night.
A young man walks his pit bull. A girl takes selfies of herself in her undies. People watch TV. Skateboard. We follow one gaunt, tattooed young man as he attends a support group for war vets with adjustment issues.
The acting from the cast of unknowns is so low-keyed and naturalistic that often “Dark Night” feels like a documentary.
There’s very little dialogue, most of it coming from a mother and twentysomething son who are giving a talking head interview to an unseen filmmaker. Why are they being interviewed? Sutton’s screenplay never explains.
Where is all this going? There are hints, beginning with the film’s title.
“Dark Night” is a play on “The Dark Knight Rises,” the movie that was on the screen during the 2012 Aurora, Colorado multiplex massacre. And early in this film a TV news show features a report on Aurora shooter James Holmes.
Scattered throughout are unspecific intimations of violence to come. A trip to a shooting range. A young man cleans his collection of firearms. Kids play first-person shooter video games. A young man dyes his hair the same day-glo orange as Holmes did. Teen girls race past the camera screaming…and then dissolve in laughter.
One of these characters is going to go on a shooting spree. Which one? Sutton gives us several candidates. (In modern America, he seems to be saying, potential murderers are everywhere.)
“Dark Night” is something of a giant tease that ends with a shot of the killer, bag full of guns in hand, entering the shopping mall through a security door.
Sutton doesn’t enumerate the killer’s motives. There’s no pat psychological explanation. The whole point seems to be that in modern America, the potential for deadly violence is everywhere.
All this could come off as maddeningly vague. But we keep watching because Sutton is such a tremendously accomplished technician. The composition of the shots, the camera movement, the use of color…it’s almost as if “Dark Night” were a museum piece intended to play on wall as art lovers wander in and out of the gallery.
Granted, this isn’t what most of us consider a scintillating night at the movies. But if you have the patience, “Dark Night” casts a weird, utterly unsettling spell.
| Robert W. Butler