Do you remember doing an experiment in elementary school science class where you would fill one glass with water, a second with olive oil, and then separate the two with a playing card, or something of the sort? You would pull the card back just a little, and slowly the tiny bubbles of oil would start to make its way towards the top of the water glass until, finally, the oil was on top and the water was on the bottom. While watching Night’s End I could not get that thought out of my head. What starts as a serious supernatural horror film, slowly makes its way into a completely different film entirely, and just when you think you know what’s happening, it makes another complete pivot for one final a-ha moment. I, personally, loved the entire ride, for the most part.
Director Jennifer Reeder made a name for herself with the mystery/thriller Knives and Skin and then would go on to write and direct the framing device for the absolutely wonderful V/H/S/94. While there is little information regarding this film online, it seems as if this film is another film in the burgeoning quar-horror subgenre. The majority of interactions between the actors are via a Zoom-like program and is the majority issue I have with the film. Rather than having a live call between the actors, it does seem like they were prerecorded calls, which lends a little bit of choppiness to the acting. Though this is nothing that is too distracting and did not inhibit my overall enjoyment.
Night’s End is about a man named Ken Barber (Geno Walker) who moves into a new apartment. He is a schedule-oriented shut-in with hints of OCD. After moving into his new apartment things go south pretty fast. It becomes clear through clues that he had/has substance abuse issues (alcohol being the substance) and that it is what derailed his marriage. Ken has a positive relationship with his ex-wife Kelsey Dees (Kate Arrington) and her current husband Isaac Dees (Michael Shannon). Yeah, you read that last part right. When Ken’s [presumably] best friend Terry (Felonious Munk) notices one of Ken’s taxidermy birds falling off a shelf in one of his YouTube videos, Ken embarks on an adventure that changes his, and everyone’s, life forever.
Before we get to the meat and potatoes it is kind of interesting to wonder as to how Michael Shannon’s involvement with this project came to be. Now that is not to say a Hollywood-level star cannot star in an independent film, but Shannon seems to just let loose and have fun with this role. Kate Arrington was in Reeder’s third feature film Knives and Skin, and just so happens to be married to Michael Shannon. However he had become involved in this project doesn’t matter at the end of the day, because his performance is just plain fun.
One of the most impressive aspects of Night’s End is the camera work, and how effortlessly it goes hand in hand with Reeder’s directing. This film marks the third feature film collaboration between Jennifer Reeder and cinematographer Christopher Rejano. The film starts with a nice oner, which sets the tone for the slow and ominous build that will come over the next hour and 20 minutes. We get a peek into Ken’s schedule-oriented OCD life with his daily coffee routine, which consists of pouring a Pepto Bismol-like substance into his coffee, to his meticulously labeled cupboard of tomato soup. The mirroring shots of Ken’s morning coffee give us a wonderful visual representation of his mental state. What starts as a nearly full cup of coffee with a splash of Pepto, slowly transforms into a cup full of Pepto with a splash of coffee, by the time the supernatural horrors amp up to a nuclear level. Rejano’s cinematography is subtle in the best ways, while still having an air of chaos that resides deep in the background of each frame.
On top of the excellent cinematography is Mike Olenick’s fantastic editing. This film also is the third feature film collaboration between Reeder and Olenick. My favorite bit of editing is the subtle twitches and glitches added to the Zoom calls Ken makes with his friends and cohorts. It starts out sparingly and as things get worse and worse, the glitches get more intense. It brings a whole new level of anticipation to the film, making us wonder exactly what the hell is really going on.
All of this leads back to my initial statement regarding the oil and water science experiment. Night’s End is two different movies smashed into one neat package with a bloody bow on top. The film, like the water in the top glass, starts as a dark supernatural genre film. It takes itself seriously, and that, in turn, makes us take it seriously. The film starts slowly and meticulously. We are not forced to feel any way, but due to Reeder’s great direction and Brett Neveu’s super tight screenplay, we feel the existential dread that Ken feels. We feel deeply engrained in the pain Ken is feeling. Once we expect the film to continue going this way, the cardboard between our two glasses is pulled out from under us.
Just as the oil bubbles up into the water glass bit by bit, slowly dispersing one another, this film does the same thing. What started as a very serious movie turns into a campy and fast-paced wild ride. There are moments of camp that start to creep in, the bubbles of oil until by the very end the oil is on top and the water is on the bottom. At this point, we are fully engulfed by a campy supernatural film that has just completely changed gears. I can see how this will be a turn-off to quite a bit of people, but I think it was done so well and effortlessly, I absolutely ate up every second of it. This feels like an idea was pitched for a V/H/S segment and once they realized what they had was much more than a short, it was lengthened. Now that’s not the case, but this feels right up the alley of the V/H/S style.
Night’s End will not be a film for everyone, and that’s okay. What’s interesting is people in genre groups on Facebook, or on Film Twitter, or in their blogs bitch and moan that everything nowadays is a remake…then you have creators like Brett Neveu and Jennifer Reeder who come along with an excellent genre piece, and I can only bet people will find something to complain about before switching it off to rewatch Leprechaun 4: In Space. I think genre filmmakers like Reeder need to be held in high regard for trying to do something different when they create a genre-bending film like Night’s End.