As Night Comes Struggles Hard to Say Something About School Violence, Winds Up Just Poor Man’s Purge

By Kenny Hedges

The mass panic among schools and teachers after the Columbine Massacre has been well documented. At my own school, three students were unjustly expelled for discussing how they’d react to a similar situation (because when you’re 14, even tragedies are a Bruce Willis movie). Since then, the serious epidemic of school violence has led to fierce debates about gun control.

We’re well beyond Columbine now, and violence related to peer pressure and bullying has been rightfully explored in countless works of art. The limits of peer pressure have always been a ground ripe for exploration in the horror genre. As Night Comes wants desperately to be a part of that conversation, it just doesn’t have much to say.

Since the surprise success of The Purge, mainstream cinema has taken perverse, vicarious pleasure in random acts of violence legally sanctioned by a dystopian government. The fascination makes sense, particularly in more politically driven sequels released under the Trump administration. We often fantasize about end times, especially when the leader of the free world appears to be always on the brink of bringing it one step closer.

And be it via zombie apocalypse or societal breakdown, we have suddenly become less and less interested in avoiding disaster. Rather, we imagine our own twisted participation in it rather than struggle to survive it is the next logical step in such dystopian cinema. The end is on its way, so we may as well take arms, Hollywood seems to say – albeit often with some faux-liberal caveat.

The same can be said for As Night Comes, Richard Zelniker’s 2014 Purge wannabe that is more interested in relishing what those 14-year-olds were talking about at my school than making any sort of statement about violence. At least The Purge films evolved into something vaguely political. This is just childish.

Night wastes no time, with Sean Holloway (Myko Oliver) already hanging out with a gang of unhinged teenage misfits as they invade a party full of ordinary classmates. But he clearly doesn’t fit in, as evidenced by his mute persona surrounded by flamboyant teenagers well on their way to joining a Warriors-like gang. One could almost admire the way it throws the audience right into things if Oliver wasn’t such a blank slate. His motivation for spending time with terrible people is never explained.

There’s some talk of his likely awful high school poetry and his absent father, which could serve as some sort justification for a desire to have a group – any group – accept him, but it’s nto given time to develop that way; particularly against gang leader Ricky (Luke Baines), whose bleach blonde hair and black leather jacket do most of the acting.

It’s not long before we’re told of “mischief night”, an evening of ever escalating pranks the in which the gang participates. One can assume what happens next, and it happens abruptly. For a film that runs one hour and 45 minutes, it’s a film that wastes little time developing motivation for its characters. Ricky appears to hate normal teenagers for standard teenage rebel reasons, which we’re again supposed to buy into thanks to pancake make up, movie logic and his affinity for A Clockwork Orange.

And Sean, though he appears docile and even sweet on a “normal” teenage girl, does nothing to prevent any of the violence that ensues. He may not be a willing participant, and he’s primarily there to tell his “friends” they’re sick, but he never takes any action to stop it nor does he walk away, despite having every opportunity. He follows the gang like a murder tourist. When he does finally take a stand, it’s less a character arc than a plot device.

The final act seems to scramble to have some sort of original message, including an inexplicable shoehorned bit about the futility of anti-depressants.

If Night does anything right, it comes from Zelnikner’s eye, who shoots the film with a sharp intensity and atmosphere that, with a better script, would have sold the more unbelievable and poorly thought out elements at play. It’s just a shame that the message is, when not just flat out juvenile, muddled.

Many have pointed out that films like The Purge have a fatal logical flaw. When the night of legal crime ensues, it appears the only one any citizen is interested in committing is homicide. The fifth Purge film, should there be one, won’t just follow around a guy whose dream was to break traffic laws or even shoplift.

As Night Comes answers why: movie logic, and pretty shoddy sutff at that.