It’s tough watching a movie lose it in the final act. Whereas a film that shows little promise at the start, but then builds and builds to something special at the end, is always a pleasant surprise, a film that stumbles to the finish after a strong start can’t help but be a disappointment. Much hard work, good acting, and fine storytelling is, if not wasted by a poor ending, at least squandered somewhat. I can’t say that Jennifer Reeder and company should have just packed it all in if this was the best ending they could come up with, but I would like to see what they could have done given another chance, and maybe a couple extra bucks in the effects budget.
Released just this past March, Night’s End was directed by Reeder from a screenplay by Brett Neveu, who is also listed as one of the film’s producers. It follows the trials and tribulations of an agoraphobic shut-in named Ken Barber (Geno Walker). He’s had a bad couple of years. A layoff, followed by a nervous breakdown, followed by a bout of alcoholism, followed by a divorce, has left him a shell of a man. In an attempt to restart his life, he moves to a new town, taking up residence in a century-old apartment building. Relocating has done nothing to address his mental issues, as he’s still so skittish that he has trouble picking up the morning paper in the building’s vestibule, and relies on the internet for all his other needs.
He also is doing nothing to address his current unemployment. Instead, he decides to become an online content creator. He starts with a video about management tips, from a guy who lost his job in management; then parenting tips, from a guy who has no visitation rights with his children; then gardening tips, from a guy who has no lawn or garden; finally settling on supernatural ghost videos. Wait, what?
That’s right. Ghost vids. This comes about because of a small disturbance that was captured on video while he was talking about something else. Now, Ken’s remaining friend, Terry (Felonius Munk), and his ex-wife and her new husband (Kate Arrington and Michael Shannon), are encouraging him to make more ghost vids — investigate the apartment building, find out if someone died there. And, if they did, find out if it was horrible, bloody murder. As it turns out, that is the case. There was a murder in Ken’s very apartment, way back in the 1920s.
Ken enlists help from the online community of ghost hunters, here represented by occult author Colin Albertson (Lawrence Grimm) and supernatural video aggregator Dark Corners (Daniel Kyri). Ken is very much an amateur, and it remains to be seen if these other folks truly believe in the supernatural, or if it’s all just a hustle.
Meanwhile, Ken is still a very troubled man. He tries so hard to exert control over his life, but he does so by making that life smaller and smaller, bit by bit. His world has shrunk to the size of his apartment, and as he becomes more involved with the supernatural aspects of his life, it shrinks still further. By the end of the film, his life is little more than his kitchen, where he subsists on coffee and tomato soup, and his home office, where he makes his videos.
In many ways, this movie is like watching a full-length version of the hotel scene from Apocalypse Now. Ken, like Captain Willard, never shows signs of mental stability, and the deterioration shows no sign of slowing. Unfortunately for Ken, the army doesn’t show up with a mission and a cold shower. The best help Ken gets is from Colin, leading to the disappointing end.
I won’t spoil things, as this is a decent horror movie. The leadup to the final act was quite intense and disturbing. Once in that final act, however, things get a little too fun house. Grimm played Colin Albertson too goofy to take seriously. His character, as it turns out in the end, is no internet kook. He is knowledgeable about the supernatural, yet the characterization, and his surroundings, are caricature.
Then, there is the Zoom call encouragement Ken receives from the people in his life in this final act. None of them seem to be in the same movie as Ken. It’s all very lighthearted and fun for them, meanwhile Ken is about to enter into his deepest sufferings. If this kind of disconnect between Ken and the others was intentional, then more absurdity was called for.
What Night’s End finally ends up being is a well-crafted, small film that ran out of ideas at the end. Combine that with some CGI in the finale that belongs in a 1990s video game, and it’s understandable why the whole experience can leave one feeling unsatisfied.
For an hour, I was rapt. Then, for twenty minutes, I watched a film unravel.