Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2017
Images from the Internet
Long Night in a Dead City
Directed and edited by Richard Griffin
Scorpio Films Releasing
75 minutes / 2017
When I got my hot little hands on this film, written by Lenny Schwartz from a story by its director, Richard Griffin, I imagined myself in a smoking jacket in a comfy chair, with a cigar in one hand and a glass of sherry in the other, to celebrate what I am looking forward to being an enjoyable experience. The reality is me sitting in front of the computer which is firmly on my lap, with my cats occasionally walking across my belly. As I don’t drink or smoke, I have a cup of Bengal Spice tea by my side as I sit on a couch. Y’know what, doesn’t matter, the point is I’m thrilled. Yeah, there’s no bias here.
Thing is, this is not my first time to the Richard Griffin rodeo; that is, to watch one of his multi-genre multitude of productions, and they have never disappointed. Not even come close. Other genre reviewers I’ve talked to also hold him in high regard, so for now at least, I’m gonna shut up, close the curtains, and put this puppy on play.
This is a strange, ethereal and episodic story of Daniel (Aidan Laliberte), who awakens in an alley on New Year’s Eve, beaten and bruised. He begins a quest to find his brother Charlie (Anthony Gaudette), which brings him into contact with various characters in an ugly side of a city full of back streets, litter, snow and steam. Each set piece is skewed in its own quirky way.
The shadow side of Voltaire’s Candide, Daniel wanders into others’ lives, and vice versa, with something quite off about all of it. Mannequins, a possible serial killer, and a sultry bartender (Anna Rizzo) who knows his name in a tavern where everyone is photo-still, is just the start of some of those who will make this dead city night interesting, albeit bizarre.
In some scenarios, Daniel is the protagonist, in others he is an observer, as sort of a solo Greek Chorus in a modern day tragedy. In all, though, there is an either explicit or implicit invitation, spoken or not, for him to join, and to stay in that moment, in that place. A mysterious woman, Holly (fetching Griffin newcomer Sarah Reed), takes the place of both companion and Dante-esque guide.
So, essentially, this is a two-person story, with one recurring brother character. Many who appear in cameo in the set pieces are Griffin regulars, like Johnny Sederquist, Laura Pepper, and Casey Wright, who show up in brief moments, with others such Aaron Andrade and Bruce Church in more pivotal, yet short bursts. Laliberte and Reed make wonderful additions to the Griffin pantheon of his recurring troupe.
It doesn’t feel like I am giving much away by saying there are other films with similar concepts, such as Jacob’s Ladder (1990) or the granddaddy of this sub-genre, Carnival of Souls (1962), but this takes a different path that’s worth the walk. The fact that Daniel repeatedly passes a Dead End street sign is no coincidence, and of course there is the title of the film.
A non-human character is the twangy guitar of Mark Cutler, whose score underlines the drama throughout most of the film. Its almost Western motif adds to the mood as the camera moves at a slow, languid and deliberate pace that matches the mood of the moment, and Daniel’s motions, like a walking sleep. There is an occasional use of either a selfie stick or a camera on Daniel’s belt that effectively gives it a personal feel, though I hope it’s not something that will crop up too much more in future films.
As with many Griffin releases, there is a heavy reliance on a primary color lighting scheme that further demarks emotions or state of being of the characters. Another aspect to the theme of the story is the editing, handled by Griffin. Despite the long and loving shots, there are also some parts of quick editing, and one truly enjoyable one of Daniel and Andrade’s car. Honestly, it does not seem like it was an easy film to piece together, but it looks great.
Many of Griffin’s films deal with heaven, hell, and other variations of what happens next, especially in the likes of Normal (2013), Accidental Incest (2014), The Sins of Dracula (2014) and Nun of That (2008). Griffin continues to take a different view of that aspect of life and death, which makes for a further interesting vision that one may not expect, keeping the viewer’s interest. Even if you have an idea of where the storyline is going, the ride there is still going to be from a perspective you probably would not have thought of, giving new blood to a not-so-new concept.
While a little less steeped in gender/body politic than usual for his later films, Griffin still manages to keep us guessing about direction of the story by giving some fresh ideas about choices of what is next for our protagonists. Part of the mystery is more of how and why they got to the moment they are in, and what becomes of them next.
There is definitely a feeling of surrealism, but not to the point where it’s so obliquely opaque in the events that it loses direction, even though it’s quite a bit over the map. It kind of makes sense that there is a scene where the characters take some acid, because this is a bit of a head trip anyway.
By the end, many explanations are divulged, and yet there is still room for interpretation. That is good filmmaking. Chalk yet another one on the plus side for Griffin. He shows he is far above average for low-budget filmmakers, making the most out of what he is given, and yet he continues to grow in scope. And, as always, I eagerly anticipate his next release.