Review: AT NIGHT COMES WOLVES, A Shifting Focus and Insubstantial Story
Emotional abuse, when not accompanied by the physical, is often neglected and forgotten in discussions around the subject. But a person can be laid low by constant berating and belittlement, even if their abuser, on occasion, provides some solace of praise or love. And often, digging deeper in the abuser's past, you find that they were always this way, always found some means of manipulating those around them.
Tj Marine's feature debut At Night Comes Wolves begins as a tale of one such abused woman, whose flight from harm and encounter with two former members of a cult with a strange connection to her, with an odd yet compelling tone. Yet the film sadly loses its way, failing to capitalize on some of the themes and rushing to a bizarre ending which annoys rather than provokes.
We encounter Leah (Gabi Alves) at a breaking point in her life. Her marriage to Daniel (Jacob Allen Weldy) is one in which his subtle and not-so-subtle manipulation, his enforcment of strange 'rules' and forcing her to do things she clearly doesn't want to, leaves her shattered. She finally leaves, but ends up in the middle of nowhere, with no direction or money. Enter Mary May (Sarah Serio), a strange woman who recognizes Leah's precarious situation, and takes her to Davey (Vladimir Noel), a strange chemist with a knowledge of ancient plants that can have disturbing psychological effects. And it turns out, Davey and Mary May might have a disturbing connection to Daniel.
There is a minimalism and a sinister undercurrent that, at least at first, serves the story well. It doesn't take long to see how Leah has been proverbial beaten down, and how at a loss she feels when she can neither move forward with her own life nor return to a place where she is nothing but an object to Daniel. It is that place of vulnerability that leaves her ripe for the plucking for people like Mary May and Davey. And Davey's strange chemical concoctions, or more accurately, the procurement of ingredients and their creation, speak to the alleged guru/spiritual leader whose true goal is usually far more selfish and terrifying than the abuse that someone like Leah has just escaped from.
But then what should be a story about Leah, or at least Leah, Mary May, and Davey, turns out to be ... well, it's never quite clear, as the film takes a weird turn about halfway through, that it never quite recovers from. A coincidence or two is acceptable, but a few too many means too many shortcuts, not enough thought and depth to the narrative. Marine can't seem to decide if he wants a film about escaping from abuse, about cults, or about something else entirely, which takes the film off the rails in the literal last minute of the film. Now, you can explore more than one idea/theme in a film, of course, but with a 75 minute running time, there isn't time given to each, or together, to really get to the heart of whatever the film is trying to say.
And this subplot, in which a man and a woman, one with a bad injury, seem to be searching for missing people (of which apparently there are dozens), only for the reveal at the end of the two stories' connection, one that provokes a shrug as oppose to being a moment of shock. The actors are all working very hard in the film, and give decent performances (Noel especially wavers well between good guy and possibly soon-to-be-evil cult leader), but the substance promised through the film never materializes.
There are some good ideas in At Night Comes Wolves, and a trippy-eerie vibe, at least in the first half, that draws the viewer in; but it never amounts to much beyond that, instead switching ideas and directions in its short running time that leaves too many interesting avenues unexplored.
At Night Comes Wolves will be released by Gravitas Ventures, April 20th, on Digital Platforms