- Product Rating -

Art House Asshole : Dark Night

| February 4, 2017

You know how when you’re wanting to go to the movie theater and you look up all the films that are showing and there are alway at least three that you’ve never heard of, let alone have any interest in seeing? Well, good news! I’ve seen those movies. I spend most of my theater experiences in art house theaters watching those movies that you’ve never heard of and then never watch. Yeah, I’m that hipster asshole. My goal with this is to spread information out about these films, that way you can decide one of the following. “That actually sounds pretty cool! I want to see that now!” or “Man, I’m glad I decided to go see the new superhero movie!”. So without further ado, here is my article and review of Dark Night.

Before starting the review, we should talk briefly about the bias in the room. I am from Denver originally. The Aurora shooting happened, and where I wasn’t present in the theater, I am close friends with multiple people who were. I have seen how the incident has changed and hurt people. The Reel Nerds have talked in depth about this event in the past. But it would not be fair to review this film without mentioning this before hand. This review will try to focus on the film, rather than the incident. And I will try to review it with as little bias as possible. But there are certain things I can not look past.

I don’t really know where to begin with this film. I have a lot of thoughts about this film. Most not being good. But before I jump into that, there are things about this film that aren’t bad that I should mention to the film’s credit. If you are unaware, Dark Night is a fictional film with heavy influence and essential re-creation of the Aurora Century 16 Theater Shooting. Dark Night follows various people as they go about their day before the incident. I think it is important to give credit where credit is due and we will start with the good in the film.

The cinematography is good. The color palette is fine, even if it is uninspired and at this point slowly becoming a cliché.

That’s the good. Now the bad.

I really don’t understand the film. It is so clearly a reenactment of the Century 16 Shooting, but at the same time, it is it’s own thing and even early on in the film they make a slight reference to the Century 16 Shooting as it’s own thing that also happened in this universe. Why not just go all out with Century 16? Why dance around the subject matter and make it a fictional story? And if you are going to dance around the subject matter, why would you ever think it’s a good idea to reference the actual tragedy? It would be like if halfway through watching Gus Van Sant’s Elephant a couple of the students say “Isn’t it crazy that the same thing happened at Columbine?” There is a reason why that line doesn’t appear in Elephant. And there is a reason why this line does exist in Dark Night.

A lot of critics have compared this film with Elephant significantly. Which makes sense. A lot of people have said this film has a very Harmony Korine feel to it, but I would say it has a much stronger Gus Van Sant feel to it. But the reason why everyone is comparing Dark Night with Elephant is because Dark Night is attempting to what Elephant did, the only problem is that it seems like the filmmakers of Dark Night don’t understand why Elephant works.

Another film that I want to draw a comparison to is Peter Berg’s recent film Patriots Day. The three films, Dark Night, Elephant, and Patriots Day all have the same theme of taking a recent tragedy and making it into a film. Off the bat, I will say that Elephant is, in my opinion, Gus Van Sant’s best film, not my favorite (Good Will Hunting), but his best film. Patriots Day is also a pretty good film. It’s a film I have problems with, but it is a well-made film. The thing that Elephant and Patriots Day do that make them good is how they handle the tragedy. We have three horrible tragedies that will forever be part of American History, The Columbine Massacre, The Boston Marathon Bombing, and Century 16. With a subject matter this dark and this serious, you have to walk a thin line. You have to realize how horrible these events are. Elephant follows multiple characters leading up to the massacre. But it never says anything judgmental about them. It just tells you who the characters are, whether they be good or bad. When the massacre happens, some of them die. It’s a bullet point. It’s a tragedy. But above all else, it never pretends to be anything other than human. Elephant doesn’t really have a message. The only message really being “This is humanity. This is a tragedy.” Elephant focuses on the people. It focuses on the humanity in the horror. You feel for everyone involved. In Elephant, it was clear that Gus Van Sant cared about the source material. It was clear that he knew how this hurt people. He knew his line, and he knew not to cross it. In Patriots Day, the reality of the situation is bent to fit the storyline. But it isn’t bent to fit the message. Though it isn’t really even close to being as good or as subtle as Elephant, Patriots Day is very much an ode to the victims and celebrating the overcoming of the horror. Like Elephant, it presents it. It doesn’t paint it, Berg might show it from a certain angle, but he doesn’t paint it to be anything else than what it already is. Dark Night takes the tragedy and paints over it to show you an agenda.

Dark Night isn’t about characters. If it was, the characters would be better developed and would mean something. It would be better if they meant nothing as that would give a message to the tragedy, but instead, they are just present they are mannequins that the filmmaker put in front of a camera. Dark Night isn’t about a story. If it was, there would be some kind of meaning behind all of this. Instead, we are given a plot line that has been used hundreds of times with close to no originality to it. Dark Night isn’t about anything that would make this film timeless. Dark Night is about giving you a message about Gun Violence, and Gun Control.

Bias Check. When it comes to gun control in the United States of America, I don’t have a strong opinion. I’ve fired guns in the past. I don’t hold a gun to me, and I probably never will. If the government takes away all guns, fine by me. If the government doesn’t take away all guns, it really doesn’t make much of a difference to me. I do think there are quite a few incidents where a mass shooting has happened because the wrong person had a gun. I do believe there should be some kind of restrictions in place to stop gun violence, but I really don’t know all of the facts to have a strong opinion where I know my stance. So keep that in mind as I proceed.

A message in a film is fine. A message that I disagree with is fine. I lean more liberal, but I can sit through a conservative based film and critique it on more than just the message. I like American Sniper for reasons beyond its message. Breitbart (I’m not starting anything, I’m just using it for now) has a list of the 25 best conservative films ever made, and I enjoy a lot of them. (I will also say that of those films I think Breitbart missed the message and satire in at least half of them but that isn’t important to the point). So if a filmmaker wants to make a film with a strong conservative message or a strong liberal message, that is perfectly fine. What bothers me is more of the handling of the source material.

You can’t really say the cause of the Aurora Shooting. You can say that the cause is gun violence, you can say the cause is mental health, you can say the cause is security, you can say the cause is media. The tragedy is complex and sinister. And it is partly why a film about it shouldn’t really be made this early. Unlike Elephant and Patriots Day it really isn’t over. There is still doubt. So when you have an agenda as strong as this one and you present it packaged with this real event, it isn’t healing. It isn’t presented with care. Dark Night has the attitude of “I told you so” throughout. This isn’t flowers on a grave, this is a bag of crap lit on fire on your front door.

Part of me agrees with what the film is trying to say. It’s ham-fisted, but I can go along with it. And I probably would have considered this a better film if one of two things happened. Either they make it it’s own thing, make a film about a mass shooting with the same characters and have the same message but don’t have it be so obviously Aurora. Or, go all out with Aurora. If you go hard with the tragedy it could work. I think it would be better if you do a documentary, the film tries to present itself like a documentary at points so it could work, but if you do a narrative film I can go along with that too. But you can’t do both. You can have your cake and eat it too. You need to decide what you are going to do, then you can do it. Exploiting a horrific event because you want to give your personal viewpoint isn’t acceptable. And don’t forget that word. This is a modern day Exploitation Film. This film would not exist if it wasn’t exploiting the tragedy as well as the audience.

There is the question of why now? Why make this film so soon after the incident? And I don’t know. There is never an answer given. This film doesn’t make the tragedy special. The only thing I can think is that the filmmaker chose to make this film because he knew exactly what he was doing. He wanted to stir a pot. And if that is what his intention was, he succeeded. Because I sit here today writing the longest review I’ve ever written. So congratulations Tim Sutton. You took one of the biggest tragedies in film loving, and you made a horror film. You took an event that still leaves people traumatized and struggles to move past, and you made it about you and your opinion about society. Congratulations Tim Sutton. You win.

If you want to support the victims of Aurora, here is the link to Aurora Rise, a non-profit trying to help the victims of the tragedy. Take the money you would have spent seeing this film and give it to them. It will mean more.


About the Author:

Henry Jarvis is the youngest member of the Reel Nerds. His favorite films include Space Jam and Dude, Where’s My Car? and Lawrence of Arabia. He enjoys those pretentious art house films that Ryan hates. He sees a lot of movies! Honestly more than he should. He replaces his lack of social skills and meaningful friendships with his love of cinema! He’s also crying while he writes this biography for himself. His favorite directors are Andrei Tarkovsky, David Fincher, and David Lean.

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