By Elias Savada.
World premiering at the DC Independent Film Festival, director-writer Kevin Tran’s feature debut brews up a disconcerting cross-sampling of concerned residents in a middle-class, suburban New York City neighborhood. They want to think they are in Mayberry (where no one locks their doors), but one wonders why they don’t in today’s world. Like Do the Right Thing (1989), Spike Lee’s examination of racist behavior in a Brooklyn community, The Dark End of the Street plays with an interlocking storyline that revolves about a pet killer who is putting denizens of Willow Glen Drive on alert. There is a human monster in their midst, and many of the locals, when not comforting one another, are offering up the various psychological profiles a la Criminal Minds.
Tran’s film isn’t a police procedural. In fact the one officer who arrives to investigate the murder of Bruce, the beloved cat of 30ish spinster Marney Wilson (Brooke Bloom), doesn’t seem to offer much help. Tran’s script puts a dozen or so characters sharing the screen over the course of the film’s short 70 minutes, and they actually are fairly easy to remember, and it’s also pretty easy to spot the culprit, the person with bloody khakis and shoes. Unless, there’s going to be a gotcha moment later on.
Covering what seems like at most a day-in-the-life timeline, Tran introduces the various folks and fills in their back stories as needed. Among them:
Jim (Scott Friend, also a producer here) and Patty (Lindsay Burdge), very close to the birth of their first child, have only recently moved onto the block. Jim’s a work-at-home online commercial editor who is bored by the lack of new friends. The mom-to-be is an exhausted substitute teacher who relates that she’s “fresh meat” to the students at her new school.
Jim’s new buddy is the newly and again out of work Richard (Jim Parrack, best remembered as Hoyt in the long-running HBO series True Blood), a slacker he met at one of the two bars in town. He likes to party and with Jim in tow, there’s a tendency to over-indulge.
Widower Ian (Anthony Chisholm) a black widower who comforts Marney in her moment of grief 4-year, across-the street neighbor of Marnie Wilson.
Bearded and bespectacled social studies teacher Isaac Lieber (Michael Cyril Creighton) is a middle-aged occupant of ten years, but is only seen walking his dog and snooping about this house and that in a manner that’s a bit disturbing.
Asian Americans Sue (Jennifer Kim) and Keith (Daniel K. Isaac) live with their daughter Natalie (Kasey Lee) across from Marney. He tends to glamorize the violence that surrounds not only Bruce’s death but other pets killed in the area. The dialogue certainly makes its gruesome point. Richard, in one of his scenes with Jim, offers an even more grotesque story about a friend’s dog that was ritualistically defiled.
Toss in a group of young skateboarders/video gamers who also play loud music in their basement band (mostly to stretch out the shortish running time, it seems). There’s also an inexperienced tv reporter (Melissa Dougherty) whose street interview with Isaac nearly pushes the scene to a Shudder streaming service moment.
There’s a smattering a squeaking doors, although the film isn’t a horror item. There’s a decent sense of foreboding, particularly when the skies darken and rain is at hand. Cinematographer (and producer) Sebastian Slayter captures the night footage (about 40 minutes worth) nicely mellowed by Andre Kelman’s score.
The stories weave themselves back and forth, adequately but not real magically. The Dark End of the Street is a fine first feature, filled with good performances that probe the anxieties and suspicions in a small neighborhood. As the sun rises at the film’s end, it’s time to count the small victories in this day (and night)-in-the-life movie.
Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He is an executive producer of the horror film German Angst and the new documentary Nuts! He co-authored, with David J. Skal, Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning (a revised edition will be published by Centipede Press).