No subject should be off-limits for filmmakers willing to take a plunge. The degree of difficulty, however, tends to increase sharply with the weightiness of the premise. Dark Night takes an extremely provocative topic—a seemingly random mass shooting—and applies a heavy layer of arty artlessness to the material. Despite a number of striking images (Hélène Louvart’s camerawork is never less than severely beautiful), it rarely feels like it’s been thought through enough to really jell.
Inspired by the 2012 movie-theater massacre in Aurora, Colorado, writer/director Tim Sutton’s narrative begins with the aftermath of a copycat Floridian tragedy, and then backtracks to explore a number of the audience members. Although there are plenty of potential candidates/red herrings, the identity of the shooter remains mysterious until the finale.
The sheer variety of styles that Sutton adopts is impressive, ranging from extended dialogue-free passages (you’ll never hear “You Are My Sunshine” quite the same way again), seedy Larry Clark voyeurism, and even a bit of faux-documentary off-camera prompting by the director. While such an approach does hint at the unfocused existence of its characters (a sullen teen’s description of video games as “some twisted reality where you get to kill people over and over again” can’t help but sting), it ultimately comes off as more of a blizzardy mishmash of techniques than a coherent statement.
Those bits that do register, however, make this ambitious film frustratingly tough to dismiss. I actively disliked Dark Night for most of its running time, but there are moments—a wannabe actress’s sad quest for the perfect bathroom selfie, a sudden jarring transition into a Google Earth point-of-view, the revealed murderer’s sunny grin as they excitedly jog toward their destiny—that will be residing in my head for quite a while. Power is power, even when terminally unfocused.