Dir.: Tim Sutton; Cast: Anna Rosa Hopkins, Eddie Cacciola, Andres Vega, Marilyn Purvis, Aaron Purvis, Robert Jumper, Ciara Hampton; USA 2016, 85 min.
Director/writer Tim Sutton (Memphis) tries to decipher the Aurora cinema shooting, when James Holmes killed twelve members of the multiplex audience watching Dark Knight Rising in July 2012. His non-sensational, near-documentary style shows a detached approach, not focusing on the individual – perpetrator or victims – but on the malaise of American suburban life, centred around celebrity and gun culture.
It is no accident that Sutton chose Sarasota/Florida as a setting for his absorbing drama: many crime novels are set here (Ed McBain, Elmore Leonard and Sue Grafton, to name a few), and in 1974 TV-Anchor Christine Chubbuck committed suicide on Air in the town’s TV station. Loneliness and fragmentation dominates. Google Earth shots of the Sarasota show uniformity and a lack of any individuality: the town planner seemed to have worked with his Lego set. And the music of Maica Armata is so otherworldly, that we sometimes forget that Sutton deals with real people and not ‘Stepford-like’ replicates of both genders.
After a cut from the black screen, we see a young, blond woman (Hampton) sitting in a parking lot, stunned. The sirens of the ambulances signal distress, their blue and red lights mingle with the same colours of the ubiquitous national flag. This short look at the aftermath is followed by an array of would-be killers and victims: no clue is ever given to who is who. Anna Rosa Hopkins has show-biz aspirations, she poses for the moment fame, she will certainly never achieve. Her real life and her dreams are only connected by a media, who still tells everyone, that everything is possible in the land of the American Dream. Eddie Cacciola is a veteran, visiting meetings with other victims of PDTS symptoms. He is burned out, near catatonic. Marilyn Purvis sits with her teenage son Aaron (who likes to play with his snakes) in front of a TV, where we see for a moment James Holmes on the stand at his trial.
Somebody is interviewing Marilyn about something her son did – but we never learn what it was. Instead guilt clouds their scenes, and there is no empathy between them. Andres Vega, a skater, dyes his hair red – like Holmes did – but is otherwise just a lonely cypher like the rest. Finally, there is Robert Jumper, who takes out his frustration on his dogs. All the characters will meet (symbolically) at the Mall in the evening, before going to the cinema. In sparing us the graphic scenes, Sutton achieves a greater impact than any re-creation of the massacre might have done.
French DoP Helene Louvart (Pina) combines off-centre framing with long, wide-lensed panning shots, where the isolation of the characters becomes clear. In one scene, a man takes out his huge sub-machine gun, pointing it at a neighbour’s house, without its occupant taking any notice. The underlying threat of the DARK NIGHT is created by the fragmentation of all the participants: their individuality is eroded by their longing for a lifestyle they will never achieve. Therefore, one of them will be the shooter: killing humans is, after all, a short step away from target practice and video games. AS
DARK NIGHT IS OUT ON 18 AUGUST 2017