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Dark Night Review: All Style, No Substance or Story

By Brian Gallagher — November 13th, 2016

Every year at AFI Fest, I normally see many movies that I really enjoyed, but, at least one or two that I just despise. Many times, I'm normally in the minority about these films that I simply hate, with a recent example being The Tribe, a movie that is done entirely through sign language, with no subtitles, that I despised, and yet I also found it on a number of top 10 lists when it was released in theaters. Well, this year I found the first movie I completely hated, Dark Night, writer-director Tim Sutton's indie drama that shows he has a lot of talent as a visuals-first director, but also that he should not write his own material. At all. It should be noted that maybe five or six people walked out of this movie fairly early on. Not because it was graphic or offensive, but because it's a visual showcase masquerading as a movie.

Do you remember back when you were in school, and you'd alter the margins, fonts or type sizes, to tweak your paper enough so it would stretch your content into the required length? Dark Knight is the cinematic equivalent of that, offering perhaps the longest 85-minute movie in history, which actually has enough story material to fill a 30-minute short, at best. The rest of the film is chocked full of dramatic shots, showcasing the filmmaker's cinematic visual choices, which are often quite arresting, but become increasingly more bothersome when it becomes clear that this is more of a visual showcase than it is a cohesive story. Bluntly put, there is no story, even though it's inspired by one of the most horrific events of the past decade.

Dark Night is loosely inspired by the Aurora, Colorado theater shooting in 2012, when crazed gunman James Holmes entered a midnight screening of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises, and opened fire, killing 12 people and injuring 70 others. This is basically an homage to Gus Van Sant's Elephant, which itself was an overtly-indie portrayal of a fictional school shooting, largely inspired by the Columbine school shooting. While I was not a fan of Elephant by any means, that film at least told a story, whereas Dark Night ultimately winds up being a bunch of beautiful scenes that show the director's talent for visuals, and how devoid of talent he is at developing characters or telling any semblance of an actual story.

Throughout Dark Night, we meet a bunch of random, young characters, who may or may not have something to do with what appears to be a shooting similar to the Aurora incident. One character, who, even if his name was uttered, I have forgotten already, is showcased through documentary/interview footage, but he's the only one who gets this treatment. The rest of the characters, including a young girl who has an obsession with taking selfies, and a young guy who even dyes his hair orange just like James Holmes, are just shown through random, passing scenes, that have no connection to one another whatsoever. What's more, it seems this story is formatted almost as a guessing game, trying to keep the audience on their toes about who the real killer is, which is just an utter and total bullshit indie move.

What's even more bizarre is the movie actually shows news footage of the James Holmes trial, which could be hinting that this event portrayed in the film is a copycat sort of thing, but I honestly don't care to think about this movie any more than I possibly need to. There is even perhaps one of the most infuriating scenes I've ever seen, where, right in the middle of the film, in another bulls-t random attempt to keep the audience on his toes, we see a group of seemingly horrified teenagers running through a parking lot, screaming, seemingly running from someone... like perhaps a gunman... but it's nothing, they're just overly-excited teenage girls. This might be considered a spoiler for some movies, but since basically nothing happens in this horrible movie, there's nothing I can possibly spoil. I'm all for indie filmmakers trying to be daring, bold and push the envelope when it comes to cinematic conventions, but not when it comes at the expense of telling any sort of cohesive story. Dark Night made its debut at Sundance earlier this year, but it has not been given a theatrical release date at this time.