Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...

SBIFF Review: Tragicomic 'Night Has Settled' Confronts Icky Adolescence Head-On

Photo of Ryan Lattanzio By Ryan Lattanzio | TOH! February 3, 2014 at 11:47AM

Steve Clark's visually assured sophomore feature "Night Has Settled," which world-premiered this weekend at the Santa Barbara Film Festival this weekend, sits somewhere between the films of Larry Clark and the novels of Jonathan Safran Foer on the scale of adolescent coming-of-age ickiness.
0
'Night Has Settled'
'Night Has Settled'

Oliver is the baby of the family. But you wouldn't know it from the way the thirteen-year-old boy smokes, drinks and wisecracks his way through Steve Clark's visually assured sophomore feature "Night Has Settled," which world-premiered this weekend at the Santa Barbara Film Festival.

Set in 1983 New York, the indie drama sits somewhere between the films of Larry Clark and the novels of Jonathan Safran Foer on the scale of adolescent coming-of-age ickiness. It's uncomfortable yet tender, droll yet tragic, and often at the same time. 

In a cramped flat, Oliver (Spencer List) lives with his single mom Luna (Pilar Lopez de Ayala), his older sister (Courtney Baxter) and live-in nanny Aida (Adriana Barraza, Oscar-nominated for playing another nanny in "Babel"). Oliver rolls with a rough crowd of smoking, drinking, oversexed kids well into their teens. His Bohemian artist mother isn't around much and when she is, they share frank discussions of sex and relationships that are, at first, startling. Hopelessly attached to Aida, he regards her as his true mother while keeping Luna at a distance, addressing her by her first name.

After Aida suffers a stroke, which writer/director Clark foreshadows, Oliver slips into a fugue state of more drinking, more drugs, more sex and more acting out. It's hard to watch him tumble through life, but young List carries the role bravely, embodying all the fury, confusion and quixotism of being 13. (Think Owen Kline's early bloomer in "The Squid and the Whale," another dysfunctional New York family film that comes to mind here.)

Where "Night Has Settled" succeeds best is in the language, the left-unsaids and what-might-have-beens between characters, and in the disquieting textures of a too-close mother/son relationship. Clark, with a background in literature as a former editor of The Paris Review, never overwrites the film's most emotional scenes, even if he overplays them via slow-motion montage and a portentous score.

Well-acted and evocative of early-1980s New York, "Night Has Settled" should enjoy a healthy life on the festival circuit, and with enough word-of-mouth and known quantity Barraza, could find an openminded audience. It is seeking distribution.

This article is related to: Festivals, Santa Barbara International Film Festival, Reviews, Reviews


E-Mail Updates








Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.