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Certain movies that deconstruct tragic events often manage to find meaning amongst the ruins following violent interactions.  Somehow Gus Van Sant’s ELEPHANT remains monumentally divisive among film podcasters and critics that I know.  Van Sant presents hypothetical material leading up to a wrath that should’ve never happened, but it continues to happen.  For reasons often unknown, people just snap and lack the ability to externalize their rage in ways that don’t take human lives.  I still question the intent behind presenting the killers taking a shower together in ELEPHANT, but I was extremely affected by his interpretation of that tragedy.  Very little happens until everything happens.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t as impressed by Tim Sutton’s DARK NIGHT, which definitely has lofty ambitions but dials it down to where it becomes a multi-character study about what entailed before visiting a movie theater in Aurora, CO.  The patrons there were seeing THE DARK KNIGHT, which presents The Joker as an agent of chaos and random mayhem.  Undoubtedly, moments of that film really do capture terrorism and violence for violence’s sake.  But Sutton chose to deconstruct the people, rather than the events, thus negating a bit of the psychological impact other than what we know of the event itself that will eventually take place.

The documentary aesthetic and presentation of DARK NIGHT is both its strength and its fatal flaw.  The whole film plays out as a prelude to a disaster but through the eyes of characters that don’t seem to be as dimensional as one would hope.  The perverse illustration of reality within fiction posing as reality is as uncomfortable as need be to place the viewer inside the trauma that will inevitably inflict the town, as well as jarring enough to limit the overall dramatic effect of the film, a dramatic effect that lies in the sympathy toward the real-life victims.  But the sympathy is merely rooted in context, rather than through Sutton’s interpretation which is a bit bothersome for a dramatic narrative that should take hold.

Many times in reviews, I proclaim that a movie leaves the viewer “on the outside looking in.” DARK NIGHT is kind of the epitome of that, and for those who might find that compelling or interesting, it’s certainly worth a look.  But I liken this to an experiment rather than an entirely successful film. There is great intent by choosing to present this mundane world as it is, warts and all.  However, I truly feel that most viewers will feel a disconnect and want more from the experience.  But by using repeated b-roll shots, little dialogue, and misplaced music, you can practically hear the gears grinding as Suttons reach over-exceeds his grasp.  He certainly deserves props for trying something different, but I think this incident needed more of a dramatic center and less of a meandering portrayal of quiet lives to really be considered a success.  DARK NIGHT is more of a meditation on the fragility of life and how random violence can occur without warning.  Normally I would find that experience to be worthwhile and something to recommend, but I was far more disengaged than drawn in to be as invested as most dramas (whether true-life or not) really should provide to the experience of spending real time with real people.


  • 1 hr and 25 mins
  • Not Rated



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