A cryptic, allegorical tale with a lot of intellectual ambition, “At Night Comes Wolves” takes on toxic masculinity and the cultish way religion tends to amplify it in an emotionally remote and dramatically flat thriller.
It’s got a message, but sends it in ways that prevent it from ever chilling, thrilling or even roping in the viewer.
It starts with great promise. Leah (Gabi Alves) is married and making all the effort to make it work. Testy, demeaning and bullying Daniel (Jacob Allen Weldy) has some hold on her and a way of never apologizing after every fight he’s started, every insult he’s dropped.
He the sort who says “I’ve tried” to connect with her when we can see he’s done no such thing.
Leah dresses up as Wonder Woman and greets him at the door when he comes home for his birthday. And when she catches him watching porn later, she’s the one expected to say “I’m sorry.”
At long last, she flees, dumps her old life entirely, so it seems. Thus she becomes a sitting duck for the friendly, flirtatious Mary May (Sarah Serio) when she stumbles into a diner. Mary May is all “honeybun” this and “sweetie” that, suggesting Leah join her “in the forest” because “I have someone I want you to meet.”
And then she closes the deal. Who does she to introduce to Leah?
“The Lord our God!”
Vladimir Noel is Davy, a hunter of plants, seeker of herbs and maker of potions, a healer with an intense look Mary May seems to regard as charisma, but which spooks Leah. He offers her something that can “stop all men from acting the way your husband does.” It takes a lot of selling for her to buy into that.
Writer-director TJ Marine weaves in interlocking narratives built on coincidence — Leah’s husband is “known” to her new friends — and never quite explaining what the hell is going on. “Death cult” comes to mind, as the film introduces earlier recruitments, the idea of conversing with aliens and the hold the patriarchy exerts in such organizations. These revelations emerge from a story told in chapters titled “The Future, After the Incident” and “The Past, Origin Story No. 1” and later “No. 2.”
Whispers, wolf howls, crackling crackpot short wave broadcasts lend the entire affair a no-budget dream vibe.
But the suspense of the first scenes rather dissipates as flashback within flashback introduces off-camera violence committed by other characters, other members of this cult. The story sputters along on different threads and doesn’t cohere into anything particularly deep or remotely horrific.
We lose track of Leah’s plight, and even if we’re getting a feel for how unmoored she is in this new environment, when she’s not in the story there’s no one to identify with, nothing to fear and no one to fear for.
Whatever wavelength “At Night Comes Wolves” is operating on, it never tuned in for me.
MPA Rating: unrated, violence, profanity
Cast: Gabi Alves, Sarah Serio, Jacob Allen Weldy and Vladimir Noel.
Credits: Scripted and directed by TJ Marine. A Gravitas Ventures release.
Running time: 1:17