by Rob Gonsalves
Are there such things as midnight movies any more?The Pawtucket, R.I. filmmaker Richard Griffin (Nun of That, Flesh for the Inferno, A Midsummer Nightâ€™s Dream) has been making them for seventeen years, and soon he will retire. Thatâ€™s a bummer, but his new and penultimate feature, Long Night in a Dead City, may be the midnight-est movie heâ€™s directed, and thatâ€™s saying something. The film feels for all the world like a bittersweet farewell, in a way â€” it catches the melancholy but hopeful tone of a young man wandering around the city in its artsy prime, meeting strange but alluring people, winding up in a movie theater (the same one it will have its premiere at â€” the Colombus, in Providence). It feels something like a glass of beer held aloft with damp eyes to the memory of Griffinâ€™s own young adulthood spent devouring and making art â€” it feels, to me, autobiographical. (The script is by Lenny Schwartz, veteran of several Griffin films and an accomplished playwright himself.)
"Griffin saves his best for almost-last."
Of course, this being a Griffin film, there are the usual exploitation elements: sex, drugs, nudity, blood. Iâ€™d say rock and roll too, but the score, primarily by Mark Cutler, is a morose but uncanny solo-guitar riff that recalls Neil Youngâ€™s fuzzbox sounds for Jim Jarmuschâ€™s Dead Man, among others. That guitar is like wind navigating slowly around gravestones. The general tone of Long Night speaks of mortality and regret. Iâ€™d have to peg it as one of Griffinâ€™s â€śseriousâ€ť efforts, not a knowing what-the-hell-letâ€™s-party pastiche, although Griffinâ€™s many cinematic loves do inform the process here. The photography, by John Mosetich, deals in the deep, bold primary colors found in the Italian horror/thrillers that fed Griffinâ€™s head (I suspect the title, which used to be Satanâ€™s Children, is a nod to the industry that gave us films with such jawbreaker titles as 1972â€™s Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key).
The narrative follows young Daniel (Aidan Laliberte), who wakes up on a cold, lonely street on New Yearâ€™s Eve with his face showing evidence of a beating. He wanders around, looking for his brother. He encounters a variety of oddballs who seem to have stepped out of Eyes Wide Shut or, alternately, After Hours. Daniel eventually settles in, after a fashion, with an inviting young woman, Holly (Sarah Reed), who wants Daniel to make love to her at midnight. The reserved, frightened Laliberte and the witty, entrancing Reed make a productively unstable couple for this gory ghost-town riposte to Before Sunrise. Thereâ€™s also a driver (Aaron Andrade, with his usual rough-hewn charisma) who could be a stand-in for Charon. The air seems charged with uncertainty, which for a vulnerable young man alone in a strange city can be exciting, or exciting in a bad way. Long Night is less about plot than about mood, the possibility of salvation or damnation in every weird and allusive exchange. Griffin and Schwartz create a surreal tone poem about feeling lost and alone, on a quest to find family.
Iâ€™m glad the title was changed; Satanâ€™s Children was a little too literal and might have raised expectations of a more straightforward, evil-cult-based horror flick than we get here. Long Night in a Dead City â€” not very long, really, seventy-five minutes including end credits â€” evokes the actual elliptical experience with far more grace. The movie is enthralling â€” a successful entertainment â€” yet itâ€™s clear that Griffin is wearing his artist hat here, and his first concern isnâ€™t how many people get the movie or even see it. Itâ€™s one of those films you used to be able to stumble across in the better mom-and-pop video stores â€¦ or at a midnight screening. It will find its audience and satisfy that audience.Whether you find yourself in its appreciative following depends on how much of yourself you find in Daniel. Probably by now you know how much or how little.
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originally posted: 06/23/17 07:50:14