The trials and tribulations of indie filmmaking are taken to their absurd, action-y, lengths in Marc Price’s Nightshooter, a story about a film crew finding themselves at the scene of a harrowing gang (mob?) execution at an abandoned and soon to be demolished business center on the last night of shooting a zombie film.
Soon after, they have to fight their way out of the building and to safety before the building demolition team arrives in the moving. The kind of film you can find yourself enjoying as you take another drunken drag off of a shared cigarette at a local indie theater. The film’s interesting satirical take on the filmmaking process is written with engaging action sequences that are cluttered in an overabundance of trope-y characters that results with an entertaining roadhouse action romp restricted only by its indie hipster aesthetics.
Price’s script has a strong tonal struggle between both its strongest and weakest elements. Nightshooter’s plot is a solid and simple premise that is expertly wielded in its execution. Every jolt of tension is well thought out and pulls you to the edge of your seat. The film breathes in its claustrophobic setting and exhales humor that allows each moment of relief to feel better than the last just before it decides to raise the stakes again.
There is a very strong moment to moment pace the film lives in that shows you that none of the cast is safe from dying and when one does die, the film makes it a major moment for the audience to feel the weight of their death. However, I’m not sure I feel for the characters in their own right or because of the way the film shoots them. The characters in this film often feel flat in the spaces they should feel fully realized.
The film crew is the main ensemble cast we are to root for, hoping they get out alive. I can only tell you I know their job and what they do, but I can’t tell you why they love the job they do. When you first meet them, its in a very quippy scene of the crew trying to shoot a scene of the movie they are trying to finish.
The director, Marshall, is at his wits end trying to complete his vision and finish the job; the cinematographer, Jen, is completely great at their job and is irritated at the director’s choice of location; the sound engineer, Oddbod, is super picky about sound in the space; the assistant, Kim, is quiet and just wants to help; the prop manager, Ellie, is extra careful with all things explosive; the actor, Harper, is a washed up has-been womanizing coward that is the exact opposite of his onscreen persona; the stuntman, Donnie, is the real star of the film but he’s just there to get the job done.
Each of the characters’ specialized skills in their respective roles are all utilized in the movie and it gives everyone something to do in the script. Character based set ups are well paid off later in the film and each one feels vital to the films narrative, but their personalities aren’t vital. I couldn’t tell you who exactly is supposed to be the lead or what the character journeys are supposed to be outside of the plot’s main premise.
The film leaves no room in its runtime for us to connect to the characters and instead clutters it with some surprisingly great villains and goons that are equal parts scary and funny, but once the film switches to its action side the characters are no longer the focus. Which is incredibly disappointing when you look at the slight commentary the film has on how stunt actors bodies are put on the line.
Donnie, played by the incredibly talented Jean-Paul Ly, is the closet character of the crew to be the lead but its never fully realized. Donnie is the only person of color on the crew and has the most physically demanding job as the martial arts stuntman. So when it comes to them having to fight the gang in order for them to get out of the building its up to Donnie to take up the tip of the spear and when he fights, he fights brilliantly. You can feel every punch, kick, or slam he delivers and the ones he receives. When the gang realizes that he’s the main threat the film treats him like he is through, giving him stronger opponents and having him figure out better strategies when it comes to fighting them.
Much like his job demands, his body pays for his victories and the survival of everyone else. This aspect doesn’t go unnoticed, it doesn’t take long for everyone else to look to him as a leader, but never takes the mantle and instead refers to the others for the decision making. This commentary much like his character are only hinted at as interesting thoughts but never tackled directly in service of what I believe is the films greatest strength, its action.
The concept of this movie feeling low budget is not noticeable in its execution. The fight choreography is some of the sharpest and hardest I’ve seen in a film this year and its a wonder to watch. Tom Baker’s visceral and patient cinematography creates a sense of space and flow to each fight that never cuts away from its action to make it hard to follow.
Jean-Paul Ly’s choreography delivers fights that dance in such brutal ways that I could feel myself move with the punches and each hit. The film puts a lot of care into its action that left me wanting to jump out of my seat at the end of each fatal blow.
Nightshooter is for all its tonal shifts and character flaws is still a movie that I found engaging. It doesn’t do much to try and reinvent the wheel and instead serves to be an expert execution of a film that knows how to deliver an experience for popcorn loving action fiends.
My gripes come from for the movie are more outweighed from the sum of its parts that makes me wish more films would take a cue from its style and presentation. If you haven’t seen this movie yet, should. I highly recommend it.