This tantalising drama is the second film by writer/director Kevin Tran, and the second one to be called The Dark End of the Street – his first was a short and is the basis for this extended version, also, at 69 minutes, quite short.
Robert Altman is at least partly the inspiration for a string of stories all set on the same suburban street and which increasingly start to coalesce. In rapid succession we meet Isaac (Michael Cyril Creighton) out walking his dog, Marney (Brooke Bloom) just home from work and shocked to discover that her cat has been killed, the Korean family over the road who are horrified at the news, Jim (Scott Friend) a homeworking film editor who’s left his heavily pregnant wife at home to go out and have a drink with an utterly ambitionless friend (Jim Parrack), and the skater punks up the road who thrash away in the evenings making music.
Marney’s cat isn’t the first animal in the neighbourhood to die and the guy responsible, Tran lets us know us early on, is Frank (Rod Luzzi), a saucer-eyed loner with the sort of floppy hairstyle that typifies oddness on screen.
The casting seems at first to be a loose screw in this well assembled drama, but the wobbles start to become less noticeable after a while. Either the actors get their bearings or the human tendency to identify takes over – convincing, rounded characters emerge.
Suburban atomisation and paranoia – and how one leads to the other – is the key theme, and Tran comes at that from two directions. In one, cat-bereft Marney finds herself confiding in Ian (Anthony Chisholm), a senior she’s never really talked to before, perhaps because he’s black and she’s white, perhaps because no one really communicates in this part of town. Both are lonely, in different ways. And they bond, in a small but touching way. In another, one of the residents accidentally goes into a neighbour’s house mistaking it for his own, and winds up the worse for it.
Snapshots of lives lived in less than splendid isolation. An animal killer stalking the neighbourhood. It sounds like a description of a horror film but Tran’s gentle, easy cinematographic style spins something quite different from these elements. An exercise in mood, rather than anything else, it’s a deliberately small but well crafted drama. Downbeat. Even when exciting stuff happens, in its climactic moments, the atmosphere stays fairly chilled.
It’s surprising how much ground Tran covers and how well he covers it, but even so, by the time the 69 minutes are up, The Dark End of the Street has run up to the end of its own cul de sac. It simply could not have gone on for any longer and Tran, rather than start time-wasting, essentially says “that’s your lot” and brings down the curtain.
Since it’s his second film it can’t be called a debut, and at 69 minutes it barely qualifies as a feature, so the “intriguing feature debut” qualifier will have to rest in its box. But that is what this is – a short film of distinction that made me want to see what Tran comes up with next.
Postscript: as I write this The Dark End of the Street is polling 4.3/10 on the IMDb, with a good chunk of the users who’ve bothered to rate it giving it a 1/10 score. Which is frankly nuts. This puts it alongside the likes of Movie 43 (a shockingly unfunny comedy), and the Keanu Reeves film Exposed, which was so cut to ribbons in post-production that the director took his name off it.
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© Steve Morrissey 2021