If the title didn’t give it away for you, Tim Sutton’s Dark Night is loosely based on the cinema shooting at Aurora, Colorado, in 2012, when a man started shooting inside the midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises, killing 12 people and injuring 70 more. Not exactly a documentary (or a conventional drama), Dark Night won the Laterna Magica Award at the 2016 Venice Film Festival, but is so far failing to convince the audiences outside festivals.
With his 2012 film Pavillion, Sutton was compared to Pedro Costa and Gus Van Sant, and due to its theme, Van Sant is the leveller that comes to mind when watching Dark Night. With barely any words and nameless characters, there’s something of Elephant to it – maybe more of the original by Alan Clarke than the American, most famous version – but what both these films do that Tim Sutton’s flat out refuses to do, is to show raw violence. Instead, we are given what can only be read as a visual essay of suburban America, where recurring characters in random situations – confusingly enough, with news of the Aurora shooting on the background – come together at a multiplex to watch, snare drum sound – Dark Night. As the killer (?) enters the multiplex, the film fades to black, back up to a dawn sky, and then onwards to the final credits.
Feeling like a documentary – a boy and his mom are being interviewed, sitting on a sofa; several observational moments happen one after the other throughout the 80 something minutes of duration – there’s not much we can do during Dark Night but to try to guess what the hell it’s all about. Knowing about the massacre, the temptation is to read what’s in front of us as a mystery that will be revealed at some point. But as images of a boy shooting targets, or skaters, or a girl going out for the night, putting on a Batman mask, succeed one after another with no explanation, we are left with the impression that what we took for deepness is actually very shallow.
Not everything is terrible, though: some scenes, as the killer putting on masks in front of the mirror, or the strange google maps street view sequence, have a certain pungency to themselves, and stay in the memory after everything else is faded. It’s hard to pinpoint what’s the main reason Dark Night doesn’t work though – it’s a good, quaint portrait of a culture, but everything that is trying to do beyond that is terribly unsuccessful, and even as a portrait, it definitely doesn’t hold for the whole feature duration.
Dark Night is in UK cinemas from 18th August 2017.