There’s a sense of “Left Behind” in writer-director Jason Noto’s “Beyond the Night.”
It’s not about “The Rapture,” like those Christian novels and the films based on them, but about those corners of rural America which many have fled. Those “left behind” there have history. But along with that can come clannishness in which blood matters more than justice, old grudges can trump present grievances.
Because everybody there is either related to or socially connected to everybody else.
Noto illustrates this with a gritty rural thriller, a “Winter’s Bone” without the meth, but with a supernatural twist, a tale set in a backward town where you see the same half dozen surnames attached to every mailbox.
Zane Holtz of “Hunter Killer” is Ray Marrow, an infantryman we meet as he dashes to his dying wife’s bedside. Maisie was in a car wreck, and Ray has to come home to see to her arrangements and take care of their odd, birth-marked little boy.
Lawrence, beautifully played by without fuss or affectation by Azhy Robertson of “Juliet, Naked,” is unfiltered, unrestrained and young enough to be confused by his mother’s death. Or maybe he’s like this all the time. He acts up at in church, at the funeral, mouths off at the visitation, but not — oddly — at the coroner’s inquest, which his father (who delivered the body, in person) has dragged him along to.
Whatever’s going on with Lawrence, Ray’s bad-parenting isn’t going to help it. The kid needs counseling, therapy and understanding. Ray doesn’t want that, because he’s sure his violent past and present (he IS in the military, after all) is the reason for Lawrence’s anti-social awkwardness.
“I think that I’ve cursed my son because of it.”
They take Maisie home to the mountains (Sullivan County, New York) to bury her. It was a place she and Ray fled, which Lawrence has never known. But the odd kid seems oddly at home there. He knows things. And when he blurts out the name of a long-missing teen whom he could never have met, ears perk up.
July Rain Coleman was a cheerleader who disappeared years ago. She came from a violent, sketchy family. And her dad, Bernie (veteran character actor Chance Kelly) is every aged redneck thug you ever crossed the street to avoid.
He’s never gotten over his daughter’s disappearance and figures the town, which wasn’t all that sympathetic, is hiding something and owes him answers.
Little Lawrence, seemingly channeling some font of knowledge about July Rain and what might have happened to her, instantly has his interest.
“I don’t always get to practice non-violence,” he growls at the shrink (Enid Graham of “Boardwalk Empire”) a concerned Ray allows Lawrence to see. Bernie wants access to the kid, and Bernie’s a dangerous man to cross, or even to give in to.
There’s a supportive pastor (Neal Huff) and Ray’s sheriff’s deputy sister (veteran character actress Tammy Blanchard of “Into the Woods,” etc.) hoping to help out.
Maisie’s parents (Beth Glover, Sherman Howard) and the sheriff (Skipp Sudduth) fret over what all this fresh attention to a “cold case” will do to the town.
Noto takes care to keep the tension high and the drama safely on this side of “melodrama.” Religion is treated matter-of-factly, as simply a part of life there. There’s just enough disbelief in what might be going on with Lawrence to keep the story credible. This is one of those cases where “There must be some sort of logical explanation for this” goes out the window.
“Boy’s got the Devil in him!”
But even though the plot gets mired in lapses of logic in the third act, Noto never lets that hang up his movie.
It’s a well-cast and very well-acted film. Holtz has hints of bluff, blunt Michael Shannon in his father role. I love the way he plays Ray’s instincts about the kid, putting himself between his boy and potential danger, such as that first time Bernie and his “band of degenerates” wants a word with Lawrence.
“You’re good, right there,” is all Ray has to say.
He’s the sort of dad who comforts his boy after a tactless girl mockingly snaps a picture of him, and the sort who would go overboard defending his son from the bullying that a facial birthmark earns him at that age.
Young Robertson has a moment that will break your heart.
But this is Kelly’s picture, playing a simmering vortex of resentment and hurt, a man who has spent his life making threats, leaning on violence to get what he wants — and has paid a price for it. He’s no mustache-twirling villain. He’s a hard man not smart enough to have ever avoided a bad decision, not smart enough to have left, but someone with a point of view and the myopia to get what he wants, damn the consequences.
Like everyone else in this modest, far-fetched but earthy drama, Kelly keeps this creep’s boots planted firmly in the mud of the cold, Catskills ground.
MPAA Rating: unrated, violence, profanity
Cast: Zane Holtz, Azhy Robertson, Tammy Blanchard, Chance Kelly, Neal Huff, Enid Graham
Credits: Written and directed by Jason Noto. A Breaking Glass release.
Running time: 1:38