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They Only Come Out at Night (2001)
Modern independent horror film is a weird thing. In order to create something marketable, you either have to have something really bloody and/or nudity-filled (something Full Moon or Troma would release) or you have to be 100% original and scary (The Blair Witch Project comes to mind immediately). Dave Lawler is something of a renegade filmmaker in that he refuses to create either. Instead, he appears to be making movies purely for his own twisted amusement.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Much of his latest film, They Only Come Out at Night is commendable work. For the 45 minutes or so, Lawler creates a study of work-related madness, with some great paranoid moments. Occasionally, some of the really good stuff had me recalling Repulsion. It looked like Lawler was attempting to make a better version of his last film, The Tell-Tale Heart (which is not without its own merits, but it does have some unfortunate flaws).
Honesty is a temp worker at a blood bank, doing mindless busy work for a cold boss (who was incidentally played by co-producer Bronwyn Knox). When she agrees to do nights, her sanity slowly begins slipping down the tubes. Her marriage also begins to fall apart, and her attraction to a co-worker worms its way into her dreams. More sinister things are making their way into her nightmares.
The lighting was great...some sequences were infused with some excellent Dario Argento-esque primary colors. I also liked some parts of the score...very creepy and mood-intensifying. Other parts of the score were banal, though, and major detractors from the action.
Also, there's two very striking scenes towards the front of the film. One is a terrifying nightmare involving an everyday bathroom item. The other is a hilarious daydream involving the boss and her peculiar way of making out.
This is all at the beginning, however. Toward the last third of the film, things start to come apart. The madness so carefully built up in Honesty seems to be disregarded except for occasional sequences. The film becomes lost. It starts going in several different directions, but never sticks to just one.
Part of this may be due to Lawler's experimental attitude to the filming. He throws in many different techniques, including split-screen, flashing words, odd computer animation. Some of these work better than others, but none (except for perhaps the split-screen) are truly necessary.
Another problem is the unwillingness by the film to stick to a genre. I have no problem with films that embrace several genres at once, but They Only Come Out at Night doesn't combine them...it moves between them. Sometimes it's a drama, sometimes it's an absurdist comedy, sometimes it's a horror film (actually, it's more like a potential horror film. Minus the ending, it keeps promising terror and it doesn't deliver it).
One final quibble...the editing. Most of the time it's right on the money, but there were a few sequences I felt could have been filed down, and others where I didn't understand why cuts had been made a certain way.
I know I'm being harsh with the film, and it really doesn't deserve it. The one thing that stands out in this film is its stunning amount of non-logic. The film's world doesn't seem to correlate with the way anything else in this life works. If you take this film as a surrealist's nightmare (or dream), it just about works out.
Also, kudos to Lawler for getting himself the budget he deserves. The color looks great. The widescreen is beautiful. Most of the effects were pretty good (I'm not a fan of making a day shot look like night by tinting it dark blue). The sound... well, most of the time it's alright. On occasion, dialogue was hard to hear. Maybe next time Lawler will be able to afford looping.
I may be too critical with my words, but if you're of an open mind and a twisted brain, perhaps you too can share in Lawler's odd vision of a temp's life. That is, if this movie ever gets a good distributor. Recommended for the weird ones out there.