REVIEW: Night Sky (2022)

dir. Jacob Gentry

One night Oren (A J Bowen) crawls into a storage container, bloodied and dying. He’s met by Annie (Brea Grant), who – after apparently healing him – insists he transport her to the middle of nowhere. Meanwhile on their tail is a mysterious figure (Scott Poythress) who is possibly an agent, a bounty hunter or assassin and who cuts through others without compassion: the only question is will they reach their destination before he reaches them.

With this sci-fi road movie through the American west director Jacob Gentry echoes such sci-fi classics as Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Carpenter’s Starman. Despite these echoes though the film comes with an identity of its own: from the tightly contained opening in a Los Angeles alleyway to its finale in the open desert, Night Sky intertwines the struggles of conscience and commitment with searches for communication and outright survival.

Compassion too is a major theme, Oren and Annie drawing closer together (though not always in the way one might expect) and as they learn more about each other they reveal more about themselves. For Oren this perhaps means a rediscovery of his humanity: his journey both internal and external.

There are tense set pieces too that include visceral violence at the hands of the pursuer, though the overall mood is charming and bittersweet. What it means to be human is a common idea in science fiction and Gentry – along with co-writer Bowen – explore this through various contrasts and contexts, including indigenous American cultures, familial ties and the impact of crime (both petty and severe).

These considerations are increasingly presented within wide shots of the landscape as the film’s scope steadily opens up: from the urban areas of the first act, the beauty and power of nature gradually take centre stage, including rivers, valleys and gorges. The steady visual expansion culminates in a sequence in the desert that demonstrates the breath-taking wonder of the titular nocturnal sky, whilst abandoned buildings appear as part of the landscape, expressing a history and cultural memory all of their own. As a setting for a cinematic climax the location is powerfully evocative, hinting towards something beyond human experience.

Whilst audiences may be able to predict how the film works out, that knowledge in no way detracts from the compassion of Night Sky and the grandeur of a final act that is both spectacular and touching in equal measure. Gentry shows great faith in his images in these last moments, eschewing dialogue to allow the viewer to project onto a sky that is both empty yet filled with meaning. As a result audiences may feel themselves transported, this road movie delivering a sublime and uplifting journey.

© Dr Vincent M. Gaine


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