Right from the title director Gia Elliot and co-writer Emma Fitzpatrick make it clear that Take Back the Night isn’t just another monster movie. By using the slogan of many marches and movements protesting violence against women as their title they signal their intention to make this about more than simple scares.
The challenge with that is not letting the message overwhelm the actual plot and the film’s entertainment value. Or worse become heavy-handed and preachy. The Hunting, which I recently reviewed, is an example, its message about veterans and PTSD taking over what was supposed to be a werewolf film. Can the makers of Take Back the Night succeed where many have failed before?
Jane (Emma Fitzpatrick, The Collection, Bloodsucking Bastards) is an artist who’s celebrating the first show comprised of her works. She gets pretty well hammered at the after-party and, after helping an even more inebriated partygoer to her ride home finds herself locked out. Her phone is dead so unable to get herself a ride she begins walking. A shortcut through an alley goes horribly wrong when a creature climbs out of a dumpster and attacks her. She survives and makes it to a hospital where, despite the obvious evidence that something happened, nobody believes her.
Take Back the Night sets itself up well even incorporating two of the most common reasons given for disbelieving/blaming a victim of sexual assault, she was drinking and she shouldn’t have been somewhere like that alone. There is the issue that a claim of being attacked by a literal monster is going to be met with skepticism and disbelief no matter who makes it, but that’s a minor quibble.
What’s more important is what we see happening next. The Detective (Jennifer Lafleur, Holidays, Ravage) assigned to the case doesn’t believe her either, especially after seeing her record of petty crime, drug use and some mental issues. The last of which seems to be hereditary. Her sister (Angela Gulner, Dead in the Water, Algorithm) pushes her to see a therapist and clean up her lifestyle, both of which she opposes.
Naming Take Back the Night’s protagonist Jane Doe and leaving the others nameless and identified in the credits simply as The Sister, The Bartender, etc is intended to make the story feel more universal. Unfortunately, it also feels a bit like a film school project’s attempt to be profound. What’s more interesting is that the cast is almost exclusively female, so when Jane runs into disbelief it’s not from men, but from those you would think should be more supportive.
Take Back the Night is Fitzpatrick and Elliot’s first feature and they try a bit too hard in a couple of places, especially in making Jane the kind of person whose story would be easy to dismiss, mental issues, substance abuse issues, criminal history, it’s even revealed that she was doing someone’s husband in a bathroom shortly before the attack. They could have made the point that just because a woman isn’t what society would deem good or proper doesn’t mean she’s lying or asking for what happens without making her almost a caricature of a movie bad girl either.
For an obviously low-budget film, Take Back the Night’s effects are solid if unspectacular. The creature is CGI but better rendered than in a lot of films. The flies that accompany it however are obviously digital and may have been better off heard but not seen.
Apart from that though they do a good job of getting their point across while delivering several tense scenes. They blend the film’s horror and more serious elements well, using one to drive the other as Jane is pushed to the brink of suicide before taking matters into her own hands leading to an ending that wasn’t what I expected.