Before delving into the review of Night Has Settled, I should disclose that I have been looking forward to this film for a long time – long before the title change that turned Spaz into the current one. There are two main reasons for my big anticipation: actor Spencer List (brilliant in the funny 2011 comedy-drama Bringing Up Bobby); and the supposedly controversial plot.
I expected it to be controversial after reading the following synopsis:
“Oliver Nicholas, thirteen-years-old, is well-poised to enter the precocious teenage world of first-sex, vodka and possible-love in New York City.”
My expectations led me to believe that Steve Clark‘s film will be either as provoking as the 1995 film Kids or Catherine Hardwicke`s Thirteen; or perhaps as heartwarming and touching as Mark Levin’s Little Manhattan (first-love concerning). Instead, unfortunately, the film turned out to be an utter disappointment.
My biggest issue with the Night Has Settled is the lack of any coherent theme. The film’s primarily focus lies with the development of the character of Oliver (Spencer List), a free spirited 13-year-old boy whose favorite hobby appears to be masturbating (when not smoking or partying hard with his friends ). Add to that overly frank conversations with his flamboyant single mother and a lot of casual swearing and you will understand why “What the …” is likely to be the most common thought in the minds of older viewers, though some teens are likely to enjoy the ludicrous happenings that take place in the film.
I have previously defended the use of foul language in youth cinema if it’s done with authenticity in mind (you can refer to my review of Christian Molina’s 2010 film I Want To Be A Soldier). Yet somehow I can`t ascetically justify most of the dialogue and scenes in Night Has Settled. They did little for the dynamics of plot and character development (surprisingly mediocre in a Coming-of-Age flick) and appeared to only be included for some kind of sensational scandalous effect.
We all get that adolescent life is complex. But, when making a film about it, a bit of a focus is beneficial. Without that focus, one gets confused and frustrated and, instead of associating with the character and his dilemmas, one is likely to keep looking at the watch and wondering when the film will end.
It pains me to slam a film in my favorite genre like this, especially since Spenser List managed to bring forward his best in the different situations he found himself in. But the poorly written script leaves me with no other option. If only his character was better developed, or if director Clark had decided that he wanted his film to be a drama or a controversial and disturbing film about youth (ala Kids). Instead, the dramatic overtones of the story failed to evoke any real emotions and, by the end of the film, one would have to think hard before finding a reason to recommend it.
Technically the film left a lot to be desired — from the overuse of slow-motion scenes to the musical score – which, most of the time, simply did not feel natural. A lot of the dialog is in Spanish (since Oliver’s babysitter (a mother figure to him despite having his real one in the house) is from Chili. Yet, aside from the pleasure derived from hearing Spenser List speak the language, this will tend to annoy most viewers and is somewhat untypical for middle and upper class New Yorkers.
As an open-minded reviewer (bordering on insane if you ask some readers) and as a fan of the Coming-of-Age genre, I very much wanted to like Night Has Settled – but did not. I didn’t hate it either, but was just disappointed …that such a theme and such talented young actors were utilized the way they were.
In an interview for the Santa Barbara Independent, director Clark mentioned that the story comes from his own experiences growing up and that he had written a script 10 years ago before deciding to rewrite it from scratch. I’m somehow left with the feeling that his initial draft could have resulted in a much better film.