David W. Edwards
David W. Edwards
A man only known as El Buitre (Jorge Enamorado Madrid), is hunting a glowing white car that leaves a trail of madness and mutated humans in its wake. Smoke (Joshua St. James) and Kat (Emily Galash) are a wandering couple who only exist to make it to the next illegal drag race. They encounter El Bruite in café filled with corpses and tentacled beasts, and decide to join him on the hunt. The fight proves dangerous as the phantom car begins to twist their minds and bodies.
Nightscape is most interesting in that its outward appearance is not all what is contained beneath. Judging from the trailers it would be easy to think that it's going to be yet another faux-grindhouse horror film with car races and gallons of gore. Those elements are present, but Nightscape also evokes the meditative nature of road films like, Two-Lane Blacktop (1971) and Vanishing Point (1971). The end result is something a lot more textured and ponderous, and a lot less user friendly than expected.
The story is slow paced, and the purpose of the evil car and its pursuers becomes less and less understandable as the film progresses. I see this as a reflection of the growing madness that surrounds everyone. Initially, I found it a bit frustrating as the set-up is so interesting I wanted to stay focused on the pursuit. On subsequent viewings, I could easily slip into the descent our trio makes as they follow in the trail of madness the car leaves behind. I always appreciate a film that evokes the impending doom of Lovecraft without any overt mentions (Prince of Darkness (1987) is a great example), and Nightscape does that extremely well.
The acting feels stilted, and whether this is an intentional choice, or the result of inexperienced actors, I'm still not sure. El Buitre handily steals the show with his philosopher-warrior shtick and sweet ride. I never could get fully invested in either Smoke or Kat, much less their relationship, but thankfully the movie doesn't totally hinge on them or their tepid romance.
Visually, Nightscape is beautiful. The saturated colors and bleak emptiness of the land bring an atmosphere of dread that persists throughout the story. The phantom car is a great looking effect, a bone white sports car that glows with a hallucinogenic colored rainbow smear. The weird mutations it causes are a mix of less than effective CGI and remarkably effective puppetry. Their design is marvelous, very alien and hard to totally grasp as a creature.
In some ways, Nightscape is a road movie companion to Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010), both are a retro-styled, slow, ponderous exercise in atmosphere over story, and both go out of their way to subvert expectations in the third act. It is not the easiest film to get into, but I feel there is enough going on under the hood (so to speak) that it far exceeds its grindhouse veneer.