Directed By: David W. Edwards
Written By: David W. Edwards
Starring: Jorge Elias Madrid, Emily Galash, Joshua St. James, Nic Neil
Nightscape is a movie about an evil, demon-car, the Latino cowboy (Jorge Elias Madrid) who hunts it, and a young man and woman caught in the middle. Yeah it’s a pretty insane movie. I should establish that early. Before I saw it, Nightscape was described to me as a “Lovecraftian horror.” At first I was confused about how exactly you craft a story in Lovecraft’s style about an evil car. It turns out you totally can. It matches up with Lovecraft’s work pretty clearly. There’s a plot, but it’s not ever totally clear. Well, it’s pretty clear what’s going on, but the whys and hows are pretty iffy. Much like in the Lovecraft oeuvre there’s a lot of history and universe in this movie that we don’t really get to see. It just kinda exists in the background of the major narrative.
We’ll talk more about the Lovecraft stuff later, but let’s focus on that primary narrative for now. We open on a lonesome highway. Trees sway in the wind. The tall grass glows golden in the midday sun, and there’s a man covered in blood sitting in front of an overturned car. A cowboy approaches and asks the man if he’s seen a white car. The man responds by repeating the same gibberish over and over. BOOM! Title card. Hopefully that will give you a sense of what we’re about to get into: a visually interesting, intellectually intriguing, but confusing and strange movie.
From the cowboy, we transition to Kat and Smoke (Emily Galash and Joshua St. James), two drifters of differing backgrounds bound together by fate and the road. Smoke is a former racer still suffering from the injury that forced him into retirement while Kat is a mysterious young lady plagued by “black luck.” We first meet them as Smoke loses a race, and his car, to some vaguely rednecky guys of unclear origin. On foot, they set off for Boise. Apparently there are races there. Races to be won even without a car, I guess. On the way, they find themselves in a diner. It’s also a bloodbath. Everyone is dead, except for the lady in the kitchen speaking in gibberish. They try to help her, but she sprouts tentacles and becomes a killing machine. This is when the cowboy returns. He uses his magical shotgun thing to put her down and introduces himself as El Buitre.
El Buitre explains his quest to hunt down the demon car, La Muerta Blanca. It spreads madness everywhere it goes. In some, it induces hallucinations. Others it turns into monsters. The film proceeds accordingly with the three teaming up to track down the monstrous vehicle. That’s all the plot you need. What remains worth discussing are the tonal issues with the movie, most of which stem from its attempts to create a Lovecraftian atmosphere of nightmarish terror.
The film uses a lot of classic techniques to create surreal dreamlike images; weird camera angles, distorted colors, unrealistic physical effects, and uncomfortable blurring and light along the edges. Along with that there is an intense focus on creating a specific language for this world. They speak English, but there is a lot of slang and referencing to things the audience doesn’t know about all of which create a sense of feeling separate from what we’re watching, or at least provide an air of mystery to the events. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. A lot of my favorite movies actually use similar tricks to draw me into the narrative based on my desire to understand. It’s also a classic Lovecraft move. Most of his stories are written in unnecessarily complex prose. It gives a sense that what you’re reading is tainted by madness and something beyond our language. That’s really cool.
Unfortunately, the issue this movie faces is one of tonal dissonance. It wants the audience to be confused so that they want to know more but at the same time it wants us to feel for and be dedicated to the characters. That’s a tough task to juggle. It’s almost impossible to fully understand the characters, their motivations, or even their backstories because they’re all presented in this convoluted way.
Instead of caring what happens to any of them I just wanted to know why any of this stuff was happening at all. The attempt to create intellectual intrigue left me so separate from the narrative that I didn’t really care about the outcome. Not such a good result for a movie. I don’t think it would have worked if they’d gone less weird and focused more on the characters. I think the right move (as much as this goes against my general thoughts on movies) would have been to try less with the people and let the bizarre world carry the film forward. Nightscape had moments like that, and those were my favorite parts, but the attempt to make it a human story in an inhuman world just slowed it down and bummed me out.