For all the talk of major releases like Dune (2021) or Eternals (2021) or the bemoaning of limited access of films like Last Night in Soho (2021) or Antlers (2021), all films which were released by large studios, it’s easy to forget the hundreds, if not thousands, of films made on comparably infinitely smaller budgets that have to wait years just to get a VOD release. Sometimes, every now and then, when those smaller films break through, there’s a chance to break through big if caught at the right time with the right audience. Hitting VOD services in the U.S. and Canada after a festival and home release in 2018 in the U.K and Ireland is writer/director Marc Price’s (Magpie) Nightshooters, a film which the trailer would have you believe is a Shaun of the Dead-style action/comedy thriller when it’s far darker and more based in reality. This does create a tonal imbalance that’s hard to ignore as the film can’t seem to make a decision on what it wants to be, but when it’s in the zone, Nightshooters is not only entertaining but shocking in the most positive way.
While shooting a few night scenes in a derelict building scheduled for demolition, a small indie film team working on a few pick-ups find themselves on the run for their lives after witnessing a gang hit in the neighboring building. They may not have a killer instinct, any kind of tactical advantage, or over-whelming force, but they do have all the tricks cinema offers and those might be enough to ensure they see the sun rise in the morning.
A quick disclaimer, but I am a sucker for movies somehow centered on the making of movies. The Player (1992), Tropic Thunder (2008), Dolemite Is My Name (2019): yum yum good! So my mood for Nightshooters going in was high and, credit where it’s due, Price understands not only the working relationship between a director and his crew, but that a set is no place to play. It’s a dangerous place in the wrong hands or, in this case, a saving grace in the right ones. It’s here that Nightshooters creates and maintains its steady footing, setting up circumstances that are based in reality and handled with creative cleverness. One of the best things is that Price doesn’t waste time setting up who anyone is or their relationships to each other. Too many films use needless exposition to set up emotional stakes whereas Price creates situations where the dialogue comes naturally and communicates who these people are to each other. Before the real shooting starts, the director Marshall (Adam McNab) is in conversation with the P.A., Kim (Mica Proctor), when he accidentally knocks something out of her hand. The object itself doesn’t matter so much as how it shows how the small crew immediately comes to her defense and how Marshall apologizes for the accident. It’s a moment which showcases how the crew rallies to defend itself and also that Marshall isn’t some dictator who cares more about the finished product than how he gets it. Moments like these set the emotional stakes quickly and make the ways in which they work together instantly believable when survival is on the line. In one bit of brilliance, the script takes advantage of sound mixer Oddbod (Nicky Evans) by having him hold onto his boom mic and mobile tech so that he can try to keep an ear out for trouble. Similarly, the weapons master, Ellie (Rosanna Hoult), finds ways to bring the noise and bring the pain in ways that would make Tropic Thunder’s Cody (Danny McBride) proud, though without the gleam of satire McBride’s performance brings. This doesn’t even get into the incredible work from Jean-Paul Ly as reticent stuntman Donnie. When I tell you the blocking and direction of Ly’s martial arts sequences rival some of the bigger budgeted martial arts sequences I’ve seen this year (which includes Benny Chan’s Raging Fire featuring Donnie Yen and Nicolas Tse), it’s not some kind of joke, it’s the flat truth. Evidently Ly pulled double-duty, serving as the fight choreographer on the film alongside stunt coordinator Donovan Louie (Spider-Man: Far From Home), which may explain why Ly’s work is not only easy to follow but immersive to the point where you feel each punch, kick, or block impact. Oddly, the direction in all of Nightshooters doesn’t stack up as strongly as it does during the martial arts sequences.
The real problem, if one is to find one, within Nightshooters is the lack of tonal balance. If you watch the trailer, you’ll see where the film is angling to be a thriller rooted in action and comedy. But instead of coming out like Nobody (2021), the way in which the film utilizes violence to highlight the severity of the situation makes the laughs harder to enjoy. So, while it may be funny to listen to Richard Sandling’s gang boss Tarker berate his men, in ever-growing exasperation, the brutality with which he unfurls his wrath for having been accidentally caught killing someone likewise destroys the hilarity. Marshall and his film crew really are in over their heads, the danger rises to meet them in reasonable ways and they find equally measured ways to fight back. That said, where may one revel in the pain the bad guys feel, the good guys don’t come out unscathed. What’s bold on the part of Price is that none of the film crew are positioned as “the lead” or “the hero,” each one doing their best to protect each other and survive the night. This results in an ever-present threat over each character, giving weight to each attempt at salvation as a potentially life-ending endeavor. Because of the big emotional swings between nail-biting tension and face-palming hilarity from scene to scene, it’s difficult to figure out if Nightshooters is trying to make you laugh amid the drama or cry during the comedy.
If you were to watch Nightshooters on its own, there’s little chance that it would make an impression without some kind of push. It’s not that it’s a bad film, it’s that folks who don’t watch films on the regular tend to make movie watching an event in their lives. For me, watching a film like Price’s is a strong reminder that creativity isn’t limited to those with Warner Bros. paying the bills and that we’d all be better served to remember that what makes for a good film is deeply personal and a reaction to a work is predicated on all the experiences you’ve had before it. So, coming off of a string of big budget pictures, Price’s Nightshooters feels like a warm bath after a hard day: relaxing, comforting, and refreshing.
Available on VOD and digital November 2nd, 2021.
For more information, head to Indiecan Entertainment’s official Nightshooters website.
Final Score: 3.5 out of 5.