‘Take Back the Night’ review
From ‘Night of the Living Dead’ tackling racism and civil rights in 1968, to more modern fare like ‘The Babadook’ exploring the debilitating nightmare of grief, the horror genre has long been a place that has allowed filmmakers the scope to work through real-life horrors via a fantastical scenario. Gia Elliot’s ‘Take Back the Night’ looks to do the same for sexual assault survivors, in this triggering monster movie allegory.
Part supernatural horror, part gritty social realism, but with a very contemporary “of the moment” feel, ’Take Back the Night’ (taking its title from the international movement which stands against all forms sexual violence) drops us into the life of Jane (co-writer Emma Fitzpatrick) a successful artist and social media personality, living in fashionable downtown LA. Following a party celebrating the sale of her recent artwork, she is viciously assaulted by some sort of shadow wraith, which leaves her battered, bleeding, and marked with a strange semi-circle scar on her wrist.
Director and co-writer Elliot goes to some length to make it clear that the assault itself is only the first of many violations women experience when they have been raped. Dehumanising police interviews. Media digging up irrelevant past transgressions. Questions about what was she doing that night. How drunk was she? Had she taken drugs? What was she wearing? Why did she put herself in that situation?
Jane uses her online platform to share her experience with her followers using the hashtag #MonstersAreReal, but she is hounded by trolls, and branded a liar and a whore. The film’s opening scene finds Jane about to throw herself in front a subway train, before flashing back to how she got there. We quickly discover that it is as much the culture of victim blaming, as it is the monster itself that has driven her to this point.
It’s powerful stuff. Where ‘Take Back the Night’ stumbles however, is when it remembers that it’s supposed to be a horror film, and has to deliver a thrilling third act. There are a few plot contrivances and odd structural choices used to kick the final act into gear. The film is on a much surer footing when it sticks with Jane, and the torment she is undergoing. Whenever it goes off with another character in order to further the plot everything sort of grinds to a halt.
There’s no getting away from the budgetary constraints either. The film has a gripping, hand-held immediacy which works in places, but looks very digital and very cheap in others. The screener I watched also had a few moments where the sound quality dropped, and some shots where the image was very scruffy.
However, the monster design is suitably horrific, and the concept of it haunting her, much in the same way the memory of a traumatic sexual assault would haunt a person, is really interesting and well handled. The choice to have an almost exclusively female cast adds a fascinating dimension to it also. The detective, the intrusive journalist, and even the monster are all played by women. In the lead role, Emma Fitzpatrick is excellent, giving a really powerful and believable performance, full of anger and desperation.
‘Take Back the Night’ is not a subtle film, but it is a very well intentioned one, and isn’t afraid to tackle something very important. Not many horror films end with a caption on the screen providing the telephone numbers for the National Sexual Assault Hotline and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Any recommendation for this film will certainly come with a trigger warning, but this is an ambitious and fearless female led horror, albeit a bit messy around the edges.