“Take Back the Night” makes “Don’t Look Up” seem subtle in its messaging.
The latter used a meteor hurtling to earth as a stand-in for the threat climate change poses to the planet. “Take Back the Night” does something similar for sexual assault.
Yet the micro-budgeted “Night” often laps Adam McKay’s clumsy cry against science “denial” despite an extreme star power differential. We’re even treated to a memorable monster, showing how creativity can trump finite resources.
Every time the story gathers a head of steam, though, it waves its message directly in our faces.
Emma Fitzgerald stars as Jane, an artist celebrating a sold-out gallery showcase. She drinks too much, engages in some casual sex and heads home, alone, in an urban setting.
She’s attacked by something sinister and inky, a smoky presence which leaves her physically and emotionally wounded. Jane immediately files an assault report but soon realizes the limitations of modern law enforcement.
The attack remains a blur to her, but she eventually remembers enough to realize it wasn’t a man who attacked her but something not easily explained.
Her battle for justice just got even harder.
“Take Back the Night” uses the monster as a stand-in for sexual predators, and it’s a smart approach. It lets director/co-writer Gia Elliot show the fears women face following such attacks, and how maddening it must be to get lost in a deeply imperfect system of justice.
That’s personified by “The Detective” (Jennifer Lafleur), tasked with finding Jane’s attacker, but there are limits to how much she can help someone like Jane.
It’s a savvy casting move, no doubt, to make the lead detective a woman, but the character doesn’t always ring true. The performances can be uneven here, with a reliance on hand-held camera work adding to the film’s indie roots.
Fitzgerald holds the story together, unwilling to let the system treat her like just another victim. The actress doesn’t shy away from Jane’s flaws, either, stifling any Mary Sue-style critiques. She’s impulsive and blunt, lacking patience with both the detective and her sister (Angela Gulner, impressive), who lives a far more conventional life.
The monster itself, and the buzzing insects surrounding its every move, are worthy of a film with quadruple “Night’s” budget. It’s frightening and richly original, although never as horrifying as an actual predator.
“Take Back the Night” wobbles more than once, so eager to draw the monster-as-male-predator connection when such efforts aren’t necessary. The film’s final moments also suggest an empowerment theme the story doesn’t fully develop.
Genre filmmaking allows some of the most disturbing topics to be explored in exciting new ways. At its best, “Take Back the Night” proves that once more.
HiT or Miss: “Take Back the Night” should have dialed back on its overt messaging, since the film’s haunting moments already speak volumes.