April 20, 2021 At Night Comes Wolves (Movie Review)
An unnerving tale of sexism and misogyny, At Night Comes Wolves arrives to Digital, as well as cable/satellite platforms, beginning Tuesday, April 20, 2021 thanks to Gravitas Ventures.
Written, directed and produced by Thomas “T.J.” Marine (Paris, My Love short 2015, Object in Reality short 2017), the film tackles a multitude of feminist fodder (including a well-done Rose the Riveter reference), molding its story into a quasi-Thriller that centers around Gabi Alves (Object in Reality short 2017, On-Site 2019). Here, her character Leah is a meek, somewhat sheltered housewife who is married to an overbearing, emotionally abusive man named Daniel (Jacob Allen Weldy: The Connected short 2016, Object in Reality short 2017).
As with many couples, one partner wants to try new things in the bedroom to spice up their relationship, but it’s abundantly clear that the other is uncomfortable with this idea. In this instance, instead of respecting Leah’s boundaries, Daniel pushes her too far and she disappears without a goodbye.
Leaving behind the shreds of her former life, she eventually finds herself at a tiny diner in the middle of nowhere and that is where she meets a drifter named Mary May (Sarah Serio: Within short 2014, Boone: The Bounty Hunter 2017). What follows involves a “prodigal chemist” (Vladimir Noel: San Andreas Quake 2015, NCIS: Los Angeles series), the remnants of a doomsday cult, and a truly ironic twist of fate.
At Night Comes Wolves also features the acting talents of Colleen Elizabeth Miller (One-Armed Rabbit short 2018, Butt Boy 2019), Joe Bongiovanni (Milo short 2018, The Big Nothing 2020), Byron Reo (Love & Other Ingredients series, The Undercover Squad series), Madeleine Heil (Reel Nightmare 2017, Aventura 2017), and Myles Forster (Paris, My Love short 2015, So, You Want to Be a Gangster? 2018).
Simply put: it is a film that exists solely for its message, and even that gets lost in its poorly-developed pages; thus, its failure to attain any of its goals traces directly back to the screenplay. While Marine appears to intend to offer a thought-provoking look at gender roles and misogyny in our modern times, his intentions ultimately fall flat amid the undeveloped plot. Which is, of course, no fault of the cast, who do their best with the material they are given, while cinematographer Cooper Shine (The Big Nothing 2020, The Transcenders 2020) even manages to deliver some lovely visuals to life; but there is just not a developed story for any of the cast and crew to tell.
In fact, At Night Comes Wolves is a perfect example of the problems that can come with thinking bold. Setting out to create a Feminist Thriller chock full of commentary—or even the opposite, if you view it that way—is not a simple undertaking. Add to this a slice of Science Fiction and your screenplay has to be strong enough to relay its messages without becoming a confusing and awkward 77-minute PSA for its writer’s conflicting feelings on gender relationships. This is where this film, in particular, fails: its story moves at a painfully slow pace, never fully developing any of its characters or events, refusing to tie all of its bizarre elements together, and all of this while tossing in multiple scenes that feel utterly pointless—save for stretching its runtime toward a feature length.
In one of these useless scenes, we encounter Bongiovanni’s Randy, who, in better times, might have allowed the actor to deliver a truly hysterical performance. Instead, the scene is stilted and awkward, and leaves the actor’s role to feel entirely superfluous to the overall success of this production. Similarly, Heil and Forster are used as a framing device for the plot, and one that does not exactly add anything to the story’s efficacy. It never fully ties back to the other characters and plot threads, and while the pair give some of the best performances in their roles, their scenes feel like they could have been used for something much greater.
Instead the focus goes to Alves’ Leah, who is never fully developed enough to be three-dimensional and, therefore, relatable. She’s supposed to be a submissive housewife who does whatever her controlling husband tells her, little more than his “sex doll,” and yet she’s feisty enough to roleplay in the bedroom without any urging. So when she first hears voices that suggest that she should kill her husband, why does she not pack her bags and go—even if simply out of fear of harming her beloved? If you’re willing to suspend your disbelief for fear of victim shaming, then you will eventually have to get past the mountain of crazy that ends up being Daniel’s backstory.
And let us not even get into Serio’s nauseatingly sweet Mary May and Noel’s ridiculous Davey. Not that either of the actors don’t deliver in their roles, they do, but their characters are so flat that they offer zero appeal or intrigue. When the chemical concoctions start brewing and the aliens beam down their mental messages, and the cult attempts to transcend the misogyny of Earth, it’s just a little too much Kool-Aid ala Jonestown.
What we can deduce from At Night Comes Wolves is that Marine is trying to force his audience to consider what misogyny looks like: Is it an emotionally controlling husband who holds you prisoner to his sexual thralls, or is it a man with fancy potions who offers you the world when he knows he can’t deliver? Perhaps it is like many issues society faces today: a gray area that is simultaneously neither and both. And so far as we can gather, should you cross paths with someone who preys upon your vulnerability, no matter how you identify, you should probably leave long before the voices start telling you to kill them.
Simply put, Marine’s latest is an attempt to package modern commentary in the form of a cinematic experience. Unfortunately, the foundation upon which it all rests is so poorly sketched out that it leaves viewers to guess at what message the writer-director hoped to relay. Had it been edited down to a short until its plot and characters could be further developed (and some of its side plots removed), it might have stood a chance at offering something worthwhile. With what appears to be some influence from 2018’s Mandy, at least with its flashy box cover, this film unfortunately fails to attain a similar efficacy to other recent Thrillers with a Feminist bent, such as 2019’s The Bellwether and 2021’s Lucky. For this, Cryptic Rock gives At Night Comes Wolves 2.5 of 5 stars.