Monday, January 07, 2019

Beyond the Night: Coal Country Noir

Ray Marrow’s hometown is sort of like a Coal Country Twins Peaks. They are still obsessed with the disappearance of July Rain Coleman, years after the cheerleader’s disappearance. The recently returned soldier does not have time for such true crime nostalgia, because he is too busy grieving his late wife and trying to up his mediocre parenting game. Unfortunately, his son’s mysterious knowledge of Coleman will pull them both into the mysterious cold case in Jason Noto’s Beyond the Night (trailer here), which opens this Friday in Los Angeles.

Frankly, Marrow probably already has some issues to work out from his service in Syria, even before his wife was struck down in a hit-and-run accident. Despite being a protective father, Marrow is still awkward around their son Lawrence, but he is not shy about administering a little payback to anyone who gawks at the young boy’s birthmark. They are moving back to Marrow’s home town, which his son never visited before. Yet, he seems to recognize many of the landmarks and people.

A little déjà vu is all fine and good, but when Lawrence starts talking about the missing (presumed dead) Coleman, it causes quite a stir, especially with her thuggish father Bernie. When the boy claims to remember her “from before” the out-of-town child psychologist concludes his past-life memories are resurfacing due to his recent trauma. Marrow does not want to hear that kind of woo-woo talk, but the anguished Coleman will grasp at any straw for answers.

Arguably, Beyond continues a minor trend of indie thrillers, like Lost Child, that have respect for Red State Americans and military veterans (even if it is always assumed they have PTSD). People in Noto’s film generally respect cops and God, probably even Bernie Coleman. Lost Child is a particularly apt comparison, because both films offers a slyly ambiguous take on their possible supernatural elements. It would be an exaggeration to call Beyond a blue-collar analog to Branagh’s Dead Again, but there are some parallels.

Zane Holtz is convincingly tightly-wound as Marrow, but Azhy Robertson is quite remarkable, in a completely natural, unaffected way, as the troubled young Lawrence. Tammy Blanchard is reliably down-to-earth as Marrow’s sheriff’s deputy sister, Caroline. Yet, Chance Kelly is the real standout as the grieving Coleman. The subtle shadings and emotional range of his performance make it difficult to pigeon-hole Coleman as a traditional villain, which in turn, complicates the film’s dramatic dynamics.

As thrillers go, Beyond is unusually thoughtful and sensitive. It is also a bit slow out of the blocks. If Noto can maintain his empathy and human insight while cranking up the pacing in future films, he will really be on to something. Regardless, Beyond the Night is an intriguingly hard-to-pin-down thriller, well worth the time of indie fans when it opens this Friday (1/11) in the LA-area, at the Glendale Laemmle.