The exterior of the Talking Horse Productions building. Photographed November 2018 by E23 Staffer Jake Mosher

On the final day of the 2018 Citizen Jane Film Festival, “Night Comes On” was the first film shown at Talking Horse Productions. The small, quaint theater was almost full as the audience sat in anticipation for the movie to begin.

The film revolves around Angel, an almost 18-year-old fresh out of a juvenile detention center, and her younger sister, Abby. After a horrifying family tragedy left their family splintered, Angel and Abby were put into the foster care system. Once out of juvie, Abby is ecstatic just to have her sister back, but Angel has returned with more than just a reunion in mind.

Filled with love, laughs and tears, the film follows the journey of the two sisters as Angel seeks revenge on her father for the murder of her mother. It is less about the revenge itself, and more about the relationship between the sisters and their difficult life in the foster care system.

For Jordana Spiro’s (from Netflix’s “Ozark”) first feature film, “Night Comes On” is an impressive directorial debut. She directs this emotional road trip with the amount of care it not only deserves, but needs. Despite many dark elements, Spiro provides a feeling of empathy and hope in a world where hope is lacking.

This film would fall flat if not for Spiro and co-writer Angelica Nwandu’s (founder of gossip site “The Shade Room”) profound treatment of heavy topics. The narrative feels personal, and Nwandu’s experience in the foster care system shows. The movie provides a harsh, but nuanced look at the foster care system and life in a broken family.

The emotional weight of the narrative is carried by Angel, played by Dominique Fishback (HBO’s “The Deuce”). This is a breakout performance by Fishback. She provides a genuine feeling of pain and love in every scene. From the look of horror she gives to her father, to the smiles shared with Abby, her performance radiates intensity and realism.

Her performance is further complemented by Tatum Marilyn Hall’s charming and earnest portrayal of Abby. It’s near impossible to notice this is Hall’s first role, as she balances the innocence of childhood and the difficulties of Abby’s life with ease. At many times, she lightens the mood, nailing the sassy comments just as well as the heartbreaking ones.

The two work in tandem as the sole focus of this film. Without many other characters, the heart of the movie and the audience’s emotional investment lies in them. Luckily, the relationship comes across as authentic. Their bond grows naturally. Fishback and Hall balance sisterly affection and wariness impeccably, making their relationship feel real.  

This film moves slowly, but it is necessary to form their relationship. It does not take away from the plot, but adds to it. The moment to moment experiences of Angel and Abby tackle themes of growing up and life in poverty.

Two moments in the film stand out, one inside a suburban home and one on a beach. They depict a hypothetical, normal life, but both situations are brought to an abrupt end. The subtle questions posed in these scenes elevate “Night Comes On” and the themes it presents.

These stellar small moments build to what is ultimately a disappointing climax. The inevitable confrontation between Angle and her father occurs with a short scream, rather than the emotional punch I was hoping for. I did not want a bombastic, violent end, but I felt the dialogue or performances were missing the last piece of the puzzle.

Ultimately, the journey was greater than the destination, but that in no way takes away from what was an amazing debut for Jordana Spiro. Everyone involved poured their heart into “Night Comes On” and it shows. It is a powerful film, and I highly recommend it.

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