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Gun violence, specifically the use of guns in movie theaters, continues to be a controversial topic in the United States. Judd Apatow’s Trainwreck and Michael Bay’s 13 Hours are two recent films that had difficult real-life headlines attached to screenings of their films because someone brought a gun to a movie theater. These instances still live in the larger shadow of the Aurora, Colorado shooting, where a gunman opened fire on a theater of patrons checking out Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises. Now a new movie that just played Sundance loosely addresses that incident. What are the critics saying of it?  

Tim Sutton has written and directed Dark Night, a drama intersecting the lives of multiple characters who are witness to a tragedy at a movie theater. The title’s an obvious nod to Nolan’s third Batman movie, with the movie existing in multiple vignettes tracking individual characters as they are affected by gun violence. You might imagine that the film would be a hot-button topic at the Sundance Film Festival, but the critical response to the film has been mixed – with most journalists feeling like they need to escape the grind of the festival atmosphere to fully appreciate the tone of Sutton’s picture.

Sheri Linden, reviewing for The Hollywood Reporter, writes of Dark Night:
Working in Sarasota, Florida, and casting mostly non-pro locals, Sutton creates an unsettling hybrid of narrative and documentary as he follows his characters through their variously listless, tormented and self-centered hours. … The writer-director’s eye for societal fringes is strong, and the drama has an undeniable visceral power.

Indiewire’s Eric Kohn was equally impressed, saying Tim Sutton “develops terrifying suspense around nothing happening,” later adding:
Drifting from one scene to the next, Dark Night often feels like a series of likeminded dreams flowing together. There are hints of the atrocity around the corner — glimpses of CNN covering the actual James Holmes shooting in Aurora, the conversations of a teary-eyed support group discussing some unspecified incident — so that Sutton seems to be building toward the grisly climax and away from it at once. The dueling narrative creates a remarkable dialogue between the media narrative and the world preceding its existence.

In a largely negative review for The Guardian, however, NY-based film critic Jordan Hoffman writes:
The noble intention to make us dwell on our culture, and perhaps shame its more voyeuristic members, quickly devolves into a cavalcade of tedium. Perhaps it’s the very seriousness of the subject matter that makes a derisive ‘makes ya think, huh?’ the most fitting response to this very long 85-minute picture.

Embracing the tragedy in Aurora, even from a distance, is a bold move by a contemporary film, and one that I imagine will encourage audiences to check Dark Night out. The film lacks a U.S. release date at the moment, but we’ll let you know if more develops as the movie makes the festival rounds.