TAKE BACK THE NIGHT movie poster | ©2022 Dark Sky Films

TAKE BACK THE NIGHT movie poster | ©2022 Dark Sky Films

Rating: Not Rated
Stars: Emma Fitzpatrick, Angela Gulner, Jennifer Lafleur, Sibongile Mlambo, Corina Kinnear
Writers: Emma Fitzpatrick & Gia Elliot
Director: Gia Elliot
Distributor: Dark Sky Films
Release Date: March 4, 2022

TAKE BACK THE NIGHT clearly has its heart in the right place. The closing credits start with phone numbers for real-world rape survivor and suicide hotlines.

The film also has a tricky but potentially intriguing premise. What if a woman was assaulted by a literal monster?

Director Gia Elliot co-wrote the TAKE BACK THE NIGHT screenplay with lead actor Emma Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick plays Jane, who goes online by Jane Doe Does. Jane is an artist, painter, and minor online celebrity. Jane, not incidentally, is the only character in the film who has a name. Everyone else is identified in the closing credits by their story function: “The Sister,” “The Detective,” and so on. As this suggests, Jane is the only person here depicted with depth.

After the flash-forward opening, we’re with Jane as she celebrates her first big show in downtown Los Angeles. Alcohol is flowing and pills are making the rounds. Jane even indulges in a bit of sex with a strange guy in a bathtub, and then tries to walk home.

Downtown L.A. after midnight is not a place anybody wants to be alone and on foot. Jane gets stuck in an alley. A buzzing of flies alerts her that something foul is nearby. Then there’s a flash of darkness.

Cut to Jane at the hospital. She’s now barefoot, covered in dirt and bruises, with a bite mark on her wrist and a gash across her abdomen. The LAPD detective (Jennifer Lafleur) investigating the assault is initially sympathetic, but becomes less so when there are discrepancies in Jane’s story.

Jane’s sister (Angela Gulner) seems like she wants to help, but she’s so judgmental that every word out of her mouth threatens to make things worse.

Deciding to go online with her experience, Jane attempts to get conclusive video proof. Instead, she gets a lot of troll comments, but also a little bit of solid advice that leads her to some potentially useful lore about the creature that attacked her.

TAKE BACK THE NIGHT is well-acted, well-shot – director Elliot acts as her own director of photography – and has a suitably alarming monster when we finally see it.

However, it’s difficult to figure out what we’re supposed to be getting out of this. In the real world, of course, survivors of rape are often treated as though they are the criminals. Added blame is piled on if the survivor has been drinking, using chemicals, and/or had consensual sex with someone.

So far, we’re with Jane on this. None of these factors should mitigate what happened to her, or matter in whether the crime against her is investigated.

But when Jane tells the detective that she willingly ingested a mind-altering chemical she can’t identify, and then insists she was violated by an otherworldly creature, we’re with the detective – where is she supposed to start her investigation? And how are we, the audience, supposed to react?

Yes, it often happens that investigating officers give terrible excuses for not taking rape cases seriously, even when the survivor bears scars from the attack. But is TAKE BACK THE NIGHT suggesting that real-world claims of rape sound to the investigating officers like Jane’s story? In that case, are we meant to sympathize with insensitive cops, or with Jane’s realization that, per the mythology, only she can defeat the monster – which then takes all responsibility away from the police, and all agency away from anybody who’d like to help her?

When Jane goes viral with her story, it’s even more perplexing. Is this supposed to be an analogy for people who go on YouTube with wild claims? Should we take these as sober warnings, cries for help, an urging to look deeper at the Internet’s ability to host endless screeds that sound like baloney? Or is this where we’re suddenly meant to ditch the real-world analogies?

The metaphor of rapist as vile entity works. The rest of TAKE BACK THE NIGHT simply keeps us guessing as to what the filmmakers are trying to say, in ways that are neither fun nor stimulating.

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