Dark Night (3 stars)

Dark Night

The Aurora cinema shooting is the inspiration for Tim Sutton's oblique drama

Of all the mass shootings in America in recent memory, one of the most horrifying was the 2012 incident at a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado when 24-year-old James Holmes burst into a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises and fired on unsuspecting viewers, killing twelve people. Writer-director Tim Sutton's Dark Night is not a direct recreation of that tragedy. At one point, on a corner TV, a news report about the incident flashes up, confirmation that the characters we're watching are not Holmes or his victims.

Rather, Dark Night is a state-of-the-nation meditation; the events of Aurora just one more firearms-related atrocity in a nation beset by them. It's not, by any means, an easy film to watch. Lacking the grace of Gus Van Sant's Elephant, which mused on the high school killings at Columbine in a similarly tangential way, it's an abrasive and difficult film, jaggedly assembled. Set across the course of one day, it follows six strangers, living in an anonymous working class American suburb, whose lives converge at a cinema massacre just like the one at Aurora.

Amongst them is the killer, but Sutton is not interested in playing guessing games here. This experimental film is too oblique to build tension around who will finally pull the trigger, but the filmmaker does present various archetypes – the war veteran (Eddie Cacciola), the isolated teen (Aaron Purvis) – whose profiles might easily fit that of a mass murderer. Others include a skateboarder (Andres Vega) who colours his hair orange – an eerie reminder of Holmes's own dye job.

Sutton also draws our attention to first-person shooter video games, showing how violence pervades our culture. The film is not graphic in any way – in the UK it's been granted a 12A certificate – but the potential for carnage lurks in the corners of this portrait of a broken society, one that's full of isolation and loneliness.

Limited release from Fri 18 Aug.

Dark Night

  • 3 stars
  • 2016
  • US
  • 1h 25min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Tim Sutton
  • Written by: Tim Sutton
  • Cast: Anna Rose Hopkins, Robert Jumper, Karina Macias
  • UK release: 18 August 2017

A drama following six strangers in an anonymous working class American suburb, whose lives converge at a cinema massacre. Inspired by the 2012 Aurora tragedy but not a recreation of it, it’s a meditation on violence, isolation and loneliness, a portrait of a broken society.