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Makes the Familiar Fresh and Heartbreaking

Families break, but that doesn’t always mean they’re broken.

Angel (Dominique Fishback) is eighteen years old and newly released from juvenile detention, and while those around her hope for her rehabilitation even as they doubt it will happen she has her mind set on something all together different. She wants only to visit her girlfriend, acquire a handgun, and locate her father. It’s an ominous to-do list, but her journey is waylaid by an unexpected reunion with her younger sister, Abby (Tatum Marilyn Hall), who’s currently living with a foster family.

Both girls have been forced to grow up fast as their mother’s death sent them into a system unable to fully do the job it’s designed to do. Angel committed multiple infractions before being convicted of firearm possession, and little Abby was bounced around until finally settling in with a family already overflowing with foster kids. She’s prescribed drugs to keep her muted and trouble free, and when Angel tells her not to take them she reveals she’s already wise enough not to — she instead sells them to other kids and gives her foster parents a kickback.

It’s a sadly broken system with rules and realities seemingly destined to create more problems than it resolves, and both girls seem well on the road towards further tragedy. The premise of director/co-writer Jordana Spiro‘s feature debut, Night Comes On, feels like something straight out of a “poverty porn” playbook, but what starts as familiar film festival territory finds its own life with an intimate spirit and enormous heart.

Angel has in effect given up beyond her singular goal, and Fishback’s performance walks a delicate line pulling both sympathy and concern from viewers. Her path seems set, and it appears to be the only thing that will bring her peace, but the film finds renewed strength and hope in her interactions with young Abby. Hall is ridiculously wonderful at displaying small looks and soft inflections that reveal the sadness of her life — a crushing reality made all the more powerful by her own awareness of her situation — but she’s equally adept at preventing that reality from dictating her attitude towards life. It’s an optimism not born from fantasy, but instead built from innocence, humor, and a flat-out refusal to let life get her down.

The film takes viewers and characters on a road trip of sorts that reveals more details as to Angel’s plan but that also finds compassion and kindness in the world at large. Is it enough to sway her journey? It will if Abby has anything to say about it, and while the younger sister is unaware of the older’s plan she still makes plans of her own destined to disrupt the darkness. The film’s most memorable sequence sees the sisters arriving at a beach they once visited as a family many years prior, and it’s filled with such sweet beauty and love as to temporarily forget the past and the impending future.

Spiro weaves her sad, beautiful story with suspense both emotional and visceral, and together with her two lead performers builds an intensely affecting connection across a short running time. Cinematographer Hatuey Viveros Lavielle meets them beat for beat capturing the chaos of Abby’s foster home and the loneliness she’s fighting without crashing viewers’ faces into it all as strongly as he does the lightness in the air during moments of levity and love.

Night Comes On sees both the darkness and the light in its characters’ lives, and while we’re hoping for the best it leaves us steeled for the worst. It’s a quick journey made longer by affection, and it’s one you’ll want to take.

[Our review of Night Comes On originally ran during Sundance 2018.]


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