There’s an implicit covenant between filmmaker and audience, one that Tim Sutton, director of “Dark Night” repeatedly violates.
You can make your movie an attention-demanding exercise, invite us into your head by under-explaining, telling your story with tone, mournful music and visuals.
Your film can even be an impressionistic or expressionistic sketch, leaving so much to the imagination that the viewer is left with just a feel for what’s happening, a mood.
But all that said, the trip inside your head had better be engrossing, entertaining or at least interesting. “Dark Night,” alternately opaque and lurid, chilling when it isn’t just plain confusing, fails on all those counts.
It’s a piece inspired by the Aurora, Colorado mass shooting at a cinema showing “The Dark Knight.” That “lone white punk with automatic weapons” massacre is even an item being reported on the TV news in one scene.
A welfare motel tween plays with his milk snake, a skinhead bonds with his turtle, an articulate gamer does Skype interviews about games and violence, “Aaron” sits with his mother and recounts his disaffected life for an off-camera video interviewer.
Veterans meet and bond over PTSD experiences since returning from Iraq, and one cleans a collection of firearms including a semi-automatic pistol, a shotgun, a bolt action rifle and an assault weapon with a muzzle suppressor.
Assorted coeds strike selfie-poses, in various states of undress. One (Anna Rose Hopkins) is an aspiring actress.
And “Jumper” (Robert Jumper) seethes, pounds the steering wheel of his ancient Mercedes, and makes his plans. How many steps from the parking lot to the back entrance to the mall? Which mask to wear?
Sutton never seeks to explain or motivate, does little to illuminate the Florida lives threatened with impending doom and creates zero sympathy for anybody depicted.
He was going for something akin to Gus Van Sant’s “Elephant,” but there isn’t enough reality here for us plant our feet in this story. He demands our attention, and then wastes it.
Between the insert shots of street lights (in daylight), visits to the firing range, an interview picked up here and there and “homework” that involves a lengthy session on Google Earth, Sutton manages a couple of chilling scenes.
Jumper practices stalking, assault weapon at the ready, dressed in black and prowling down the working class suburban street where he lives — in broad daylight.
When he’s loaded down for the night’s mayhem, an acquaintance asks, “Where’s the party?”
“At the movies.”
You don’t spend as much time in theaters as I do and not think about Aurora. I went to a movie in a Pasco County cinema where a week later, an ex-cop murdered a jerk he got into a beef with about talking on his phone during the movie (actually, during the previews, if memory serves).
But this Ringling College co-production doesn’t add to anybody’s understanding of shooters or sympathy for victims. It doesn’t even amp up the paranoia that comes from a culture where any public space — cinema, nightclub, church or place of business — could be some NRA-armed nutjob’s platform to cry out for attention.
Self-consciously arty, exploitative (Sutton just leers at the young women) “Dark Night” may be. It’s a drama without dramatics, a destination in search of the movie that takes us there.
MPAA Rating: unrated, firearms, nudity, profanity
Credits: Written and directed by Tim Sutton. A Samuel Goldwyn release.
Running time: 1:25