[Review] Suburban horror is revealed in ‘The Dark End of the Street’

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It’s easy to think that everything about suburbia has been said or done in movies. Yet director Kevin Tran feels otherwise in his debut feature, The Dark End oft the Street.

With so many people nowadays feeling more nonplussed than not, it is no wonder they look inward. Trying to better understand that indescribable yet gnawing disconnect built over time to basic facts of life — it can be overwhelming when there are no more holes to hide one’s head in. The suburbs are a temporary fix for those looking to escape the ills of inner city living. Eventually, as viewers can see in Tran‘s movie, less desirable elements and people don’t just disappear with a simple zip code change.

Based on a short of the same name by the same director, The Dark End of the Street takes place on a nondescript, middle-class borough. Neighbors are friendly enough and remain politely detached. When news of a serial pet killer breaks, the residents are understandably concerned. Their reactions greatly vary, though.

Marney (Brooke Bloom) makes the grisly discovery of her beloved cat slain in her own home. Her ornery neighbor, Ian (Anthony Chisholm), later becomes her rock and shoulder. The cops’ appearance then concerns a family of three whose parents diligently shield their young daughter from the ordeal. When a local newswoman (Melissa Dougherty) stops by, she startles an oblivious neighbor (Michael Cyril Creighton) who frequently walks his dog near the same house where the cat was killed.

Meanwhile, other residents on the street are simply unknowing or uninterested. This includes an expectant, work-at-home father named Jim (Scott Friend), who is itching for a night out with a new friend Richard (Jim Parrack). Teenage characters are oblivious only until one of them gets involved in the case.

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Compared to an actual homicide, this unusual and heinous crime doesn’t immediately set off alarms. Rather, it has an insidious ripple effect that touches each and every character in some way or another. The cat’s traumatized owner eventually seeks comfort in her lonely neighbor Ian; the overprotective parents take matters into their own hands when they suspect the perpetrator has come to collect their daughter’s pet bird; Jim makes a near fatal mistake upon returning from a drunken night out. It just goes to show there’s no escaping the impact of death no matter the size or victim.

The movie’s ambiguous location helps creates inclusivity. Everyone has lived in a neighborhood like this, or, at the very least, has visited one like it. They can put themselves in Marney’s shoes, or they can sympathize with a skittish family whose relation to the matter is at best geographical. Irrespective of who you are, you can find someone in the movie to identity with.

The Dark End of the Street cannot be absolutely categorized; the genre is however one views the events of the film. By and large, everything that happens following the movie’s narrative thrust is dramatic in tone. The conversations are mumblecore and the personalities are ubiquitous. Much of the story is so accessible and broad that it almost becomes slice-of-life, albeit more grim.

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Then, there are thriller elements that are never so pronounced that they alienate someone who is just expecting a somber drama. It’s made clear early on that the pet killer is among them. They commit another murder later on in the movie to which one of the aforementioned characters unfortunately witnesses. There’s even a “stranger danger” pursuit that could suggest this is really a low-key horror movie padded with other, less threatening scenes to keep an audience cautiously calm. Regardless of how you describe the events that transpire, you’ll be left strangely unsettled by what you saw.

The brisk, soft anthology-like movie is shot on a micro budget with a cast of actors who you may not easily recognize. Even so, neither the talent nor the intended effect is small. There is a question of whether this is vérité or not, but, as with all the weighing questions that plague us in real life, there is no certain answer. Instead, the audience is reminded of their precious safety — how it unawarely hangs in the balance, and how it takes very little to remove it.

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