Dark Night review: anatomy of a mass shooting

Based on the Colorado cineplex shooting, this is an unsensational portrait of alienation

No magic bullet theory: Dark Night

Film Title: Dark Night

Director: Tim Sutton

Starring: Anna Rose Hopkins, Robert Jumper, Karina Macias, Eddie Cacciola, Rosie Rodriguez, Aaron Purvis

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 86 min

Thu, Aug 31, 2017, 12:35

   

Hailing from the same wilfully grey space between document and fiction as Kate Plays Christine or Le Quattro Volte, Tim Sutton’s homophonic third feature (following on from the similarly experimental Pavilion and Memphis) uses non-professional actors and downtime to explore the 2012 Aurora shooting.

The perpetrator of the Colorado shooting, James Holmes, is glimpsed only briefly on a television screen. Sutton’s film is not a recreation or dramatisation: it’s a session on a therapist’s couch, bleached of all sensationalism, that offers a larger portrait of the modern alienation that feeds mass-shooting events.

Taking cues from Gus Van Sant’s Palme d’Or-winning Elephant, Dark Night maintains a hypnotic, humdrum pace, often set to the lo-fi, folkish songs of Canadian singer-songwriter Maica Armata.

Where Van Sant’s film, for all its quiet, dreamy presentation, loudly insisted on smoking guns – It was the video games! It was unpopularity! It was the gayness! – Dark Night has no magic bullet theory or theories. Rather, it takes a macro approach to a disjointed society where guns are freely available and routinely glamorised.

Torments

Mass shootings may have lone perpetrators but they do not happen in isolation. As Dark Night has it, anyone and everyone has the means (Google Maps, first person shoot-’em-ups, live ammunition) and the torments to go postal. To this end, there are echoes of Colorado: one of the six strangers we follow for the film’s duration dyes his hair bright orange. Another (Aaron Purvis) has only one friend and that’s online.

Summer (Anna Rose Hopkins) obsessively poses for selfies as she drinks green smoothies, exercises and calls casting directors. Might she be so hungry for YouTube stardom that she’ll shoot up the premiere of the film within the film? An army veteran (Eddie Cacciola) attends a therapy group for PTSD sufferers and visits a shooting range. We watch him loading weapons before taking his wife and toddler to the movie. Another saucer-eyed youngster (Robert Jumper) paces out the mall parking lot ominously, and tries on masks (including a Batman mask).

Cinematographer Hélène Louvart (The Beaches of Agnès, Pina) creates beautiful, menacing tracking shots and tableaux from these ordinary, frustrated lives. People talk in past tense, as if they are already dissecting some terrible event: “As a child, he always stood out from other kids,” says Aaron’s mother. We never do see the event, an absence that only adds to the eeriness.