“Night Comes On”, which won the NEXT Innovator Award at the Sundance Film Festival early in last year, is a quiet and sensitive character drama about one troubled young girl attempting to seek vengeance. While calmly following its heroine’s emotional journey, the movie subtly conveys to us pain and torment insider her, and we come to empathize more with her as also more concerned about what may happen in the end.
When we see Angel Lamere (Dominique Fishback) in the beginning, this adolescent girl who is soon going to be 17 years old is about to be released from a juvenile detention center, and we gradually come to gather how problematic her life has been during last several years. After her mother was killed by her father, she bounced from one foster home to another while causing lots of troubles, and she also committed a lot of minor crimes, which eventually resulted in her incarceration in the juvenile detention center for a couple of years.
On the surface, Angel seems to be ready to make a new start outside. During the interview with her parole officer, she shows some eagerness for a better life, and her parole officer is willing to help her although he shows jaded skepticism at first. Although she does not have any close family member, she has a girlfriend who may let her stay in her residence for a while, and she is also going to meet her younger sister Abby (Tatum Marilyn Hall), who has currently been in a foster home along with other kids.
However, it turns out that Angel is planning to kill her father, who was recently been released as his sentence was considerably reduced due to a legal excuse. She tries to find where he is currently living, but, of course, she is not allowed to access to that information, and it seems that the only possible way for her is getting some help from Abby, who previously went to their father’s current residence.
When she comes to the foster home where Abby lives along with several other young kids, Abby is certainly delighted to see her older sister again, and the mood becomes a little gentler as they spend some time together inside the foster home. While the bedrooms for Abby and other kids are stuffy and shabby, the bedroom of their foster mother’s daughter looks pretty bright and clean in contrast, and we come to learn a bit about how Abby and other kids live day by day in this rather poor environment.
As the night comes, Angel goes to where her girlfriend lives, but, as they talk with each other outside, she is only reminded of how much she and her girlfriend have been distant to each other. While there is no hard feeling between them, Angel’s girlfriend cannot afford to let Angel stay in her residence, and we accordingly get a harrowing scene where Angel tries to sleep on the ground floor of some building.
Once everything is established in the story, the movie moves onto the next act, which revolves around Angel and Abby’s journey to where their father possibly lives. When they happen to be stranded on the road thanks to Abby’s certain biological matter, they fortunately get some help from a group of girls, and that leads to a nice scene where they and these girls cheerfully hang around with each other in the house where one of these girls lives.
However, Angel finds herself feeling more urge for revenge than before. As shown from an earlier scene, she already obtained a gun, and the gun is now being hidden in her bag, but she becomes more conflicted as more anger and anxiety are accumulated inside her. Not so surprisingly, Abby later comes to realize what her older sister is probably going to do, and there comes a very hurtful moment between them as Abby reveals something she did not tell Angel from the very beginning.
When the story finally arrives at its expected narrative point, the movie keeps maintaining its calm attitude even though the mood becomes a little too melodramatic. The resulting finale may feel rather anti-climactic at first, but it is presented with some human compassion and understanding, and that is why the last shot of the film works with considerable dramatic resonance.
It helps that the movie is anchored well by the strong lead performance by Dominique Fishback, who recently played a supporting character in “The Hate U Give” (2018). Even when her character does not say much, Fishback deftly depicts her character’s confused and conflicted emotional state, and she is also supported well by several other main cast members including John Jelks, Max Casella, James McDaniel, Nastashia Fuller, and Tatum Marilyn Hall, who does a lot more than holding her place well beside Fishback.
“Night Comes on” is the first feature film by director/co-writer Jordana Spiro, who has been mainly known for her acting works in a number of movies and TV series (She has recently been one of the main cast members in acclaimed TV series “Ozark”, by the way). Considering its realistic mood and details as well as its unadorned storytelling and performance, Spiro is another good filmmaker to watch in my humble opinion, and I guess we can have some expectation on what may come next from her in the future.