For instance, metaphors draw audiences in without a lot of splash or visual trickery. In an almost subversive way, they eliminate the need for exposition or information dumps as they posit just the required amount of data in such a way as to lay a foundation from which to build. Furthermore, they give a responsible storyteller another tool in the toolbag that can be used practically at any moment to underscore the emotions a character might be experiencing. This has a way of not only establishing a baseline but also updating the audience as to where we’re at in the film and maybe even point in the direction we’re heading. It’s an economic way of communicating a lot of stuff in simple terms.
Naturally, there are disadvantages to relying too heavily on a device. If the viewers are at a loss to understand why a metaphor has been inserted, then directors run the risk of disenfranchising the audience, putting them at odds with what’s happening in the film. Also, if the metaphor is employed inconsistently throughout the entire story, then viewers might struggle to make sense of how some scenes add into the narrative center. Of course, I won’t even get started on the prospect about whether the metaphor is a bad choice as that really has an endless list of weaknesses introduced as a consequence of a bad decision.
Take Back The Night (2021) makes, arguably, a very effective case for using metaphors on film but only up to a point: what do you do when the monster truly is a fictional monster? Have we just spent 90 minutes pushing a message when that message distracts from the vicarious thrill long associated with our enjoyment of Horror features? How does the viewer reconcile those differences – the thrill of being scared with the reality of being attacked – in the film’s closure? I’m not wise enough to have the answers, but I’m always willing to ask the questions … even when it hurts. That’s my curse.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for the final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the film’s promotional materials:
“Finding herself the victim of a violent monster attack, Jane launches a vigilante campaign to hunt the beast that tried to kill her. Jane’s efforts intensify, but her troubling history of drug use and mental illness bubbles to the surface causing her family, community, and authorities to question the authenticity of her account. Suddenly alone in her fight, Jane starts to doubt her own memory of the attack…to doubt if Monster exists at all.”
With Take Back The Night, director Gia Elliot joined forces with co-writer and star Emma Fitzpatrick to plumb the depths of female-centric Horror by crafting their traditional monster movie with a bit of a social justice critique. Jane (as played by Fitzpatrick) was attacked by … well … something in a dark alley the night after her rather successful art gallery launch. While the assault itself didn’t appear to be sexual in nature (in fact, I don’t think the story clarifies what exactly it was, though there’s a healthy amount of midsection excision, bruising, and wrist-scarring involved), the metaphor is drawn that way chiefly owed to the gender of the characters (not that there’s anything wrong with that). If it seems that I’m being weirdly specific, the truth is that I am as I’ve tried to be clear that I struggle with metaphor-heavy tales.
As a Horror film, Take Back The Night works best in its second half. The first is a bit heavy with some meandering stretches of Jane understandably numb from the encounter. While the creature is a bit nebulous – it’s really given no significant backstory other than it’s here, it’s been here, and it’s exclusively preying on women – it’s all rendered in a way with blackness and shadows that ratchets up the tension effectively. In fact, the creature sequences were so grand that I honestly wished there were more of them! The climax is particularly good, and there’s even a slim opening for a potential follow-up, something that almost universally applies to good creature features made with a deep respect for things that go bump in the night. Its leads – Fitzpatrick and Jennifer Lafleur (as the police detective trying to make sense of Jane’s evolving case) – are particularly winning. Kudos to all involved on all these points.
But … and this is where the controversy starts …
The only man in the film is a philanderer who joins Jane for what we’re shown to be a consensual (yet debatable) pairing in the bathroom in the opening segment. (There are other small male roles, but this is the only one of any visual importance, so far as I’m concerned, because of its ramifications from start-to-finish. This Night is female-centric, and it was likely designed that way.)
This is important to me because this being Jane’s only real interaction with a man – there’s even no father mentioned in her backstory though science would tell me one had to be there at some point – so it also has to educate me about her character as much as it does his. This male’s face is never shown (I’m sure this was intentional), and he’s only identified strategically by shots of him having sex with our lead. It’s only then that we see the wedding ring on his finger, and I think this was done to clearly present him as a person willing to compromise his morality (assuming he had any to begin with) in the pursuit of sex.
The fact that there are no responsible males in the film implies the greater statement: there are no responsible males in this world. That’s a sentiment I don’t embrace – it’s certainly not a world view I accept or identify with – and that’s what I mean when I say metaphors can be risky propositions.
Alas, Elliot and Fitzpatrick’s metaphor doesn’t stop there.
So I won’t pretend to understand what the filmmakers were trying to suggest with such ambiguity – even the film’s monster is essentially just a splotch of blackness with occasional arms and legs and only a few remaining identifiable details (are those eyes? They look like orbs. I see hands, yes, but little else …). While I can ponder any number of potential extrapolations, a metaphor’s chief weakness is that it has to be perfectly understood in order to effectively communicate the ‘moral of the story’ … and what I get here falsely assigns a bit of celebrity to victimhood, for lack of a better explanation. I felt like I was being told a tale to rally around a particular sentiment in the finale … I just don’t know what I’m supposed to champion here.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m all in for shutting down predators. I shouldn’t have to say that but anticipating the reaction to my review I find it preemptively necessary.
Truthfully, predators have no place in a civil society. I think everyone agrees on that point. I have family members who’ve dealt with issues relating to it, so I am speaking from a position of admittedly limited experience. Further, I’ve seen, read, and heard enough true stories involving assault, about how the reporting process is flawed, about the struggles the victim is forced to endure, etc., and I agree that’s a cultural travesty we’ll never quite recover from. But what you have here – because it’s a Horror movie – is entirely fictional and never presented as being possibly authentic. Lose the metaphor, tell a real rape story, and everything else here makes sense. But as a Horror entry?
I just struggle with the messaging. Always have. Likely always will.
Take Back The Night (2021) was produced by Emma Fitzpatrick, Kwanza Gooden, and Gia Elliott. Publicity materials indicate that the feature film will be both screened theatrically and available on demand starting March 4, 2022.
Recommended, but a few words of caution as Take Back The Night is positioned as a metaphor discussing violence against females. While I heartily stand with victims of assault, isn’t it kinda/sorta irresponsible to pair your FICTIONAL MONSTER MOVIE with real-world crimes? Doesn’t that diminish those suffering from legitimate, frightening experiences and almost cheapen what honest victims have gone through? I could be wrong (have been before), but I see this is a marketing misstep. I understand the similarities clearly scripted here; it just kinda/sorta left me with a bad taste in my mouth afterward. But, hey, if the film gets both sides talking? That can only be good … right?
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Sky Films provided me with a complimentary streaming link of Take Back The Night (2021) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.