Our society continually fails Black women. As a result, we’re forced to choke back our emotions and vulnerabilities, often turning to anger to cope. Ironically we’re then met with disdain or annoyance. Hurt, pain, and anger can be all-consuming, no one is disputing that. It can fester, stifling the people we are meant to become because we choose to hold on to past injustices. And yet, anger and rage are tricky, they can also be used as fuel.
Jordana Spiro's feature film debut, Night Comes On follows Angel LaMere, played by rising star Dominique Fishback. Angel is released from a juvenile detention center just outside of Philadelphia on her eighteenth birthday and soon embarks on a singular mission of revenge against her father for the murder of her mother. Determined to see her journey through, Angel does not expect to have her precocious and hilarious 10-year-old sister, Abby (newcomer Tatum Hall) in tow.
From the very moment she steps beyond the padlock gates, Angel begins to set her plan in motion. She sets off to purchase a gun, discover her father’s whereabouts, and see her sister one final time. However, as Angel soon discovers, sheer will and self-determination won’t get you very far when you only have a busted cellphone and a couple of bucks in your purse.
Spiro and her co-writer Angelica Nwandu‘s airy script leaves a ton of room for quiet spaces and contemplation. Fishback is wonderful as usual. She presents a harden young woman, emotionally armored and determined not to connect with anyone or anything until she’s gotten vengeance for the life that was taken from her. What Angel doesn’t count on is the power of sisterhood.
Though Angel’s determined to keep her little sister at arm’s length, Abby begins to seep into the cracks and wounds that Angel has so carefully masked over; scars that even her ex-girlfriend could never penetrate. Hall’s performance as the fierce young girl will leave you mesmerized. Hilariously self-aware with a biting wit, Abby — now in the foster system — is smart and determined to protect her hotheaded big sister, even when Angel has no desire to look after herself.
The importance of a female director and writing team in this coming-of-age film can’t be overstated here. Fishback’s body was never once put on display gratuitously and moments in Angel’s life, one marred with sexual assault and coercion aren’t used as plot points in the script. Still, it was the moments between the sisters, both the snippy banter and the softer connections where Spiro makes her mark as a director. It seems unimaginable that a male writer or director would able be to capture a 10-year-old girl’s horror at her first period and her big sister's detached but comforting reaction.
Despite the wonderful acting, Night Comes On did feel a bit long-winded at times; a tighter edit may have made the story more succinct and impactful in the end. The climax, which was so beautifully built from the beginning didn’t exactly pay off in a way that felt satisfying to the audience after the final credits rolled. However, for a first feature-length film, Spiro’s effort is solid. The stellar performances of her cast carry the movie when it lulls or feels uneven.
Night Comes On is about loss, pain, revenge and what women (Black women in particular) are forced to endure. However, at its core, the film is about sisterhood and all of the joys and aches that come with it.
Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival, Jan. 19, 2018.
Aramide A Tinubu is a film critic and entertainment writer. As a journalist, her work has been published in EBONY, JET, ESSENCE, Bustle, The Daily Mail, IndieWire and Blavity. She wrote her Master’s thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can find her reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, read her blog at: www.chocolategirlinthecity.com or tweet her @midnightrami