Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy famous took the Batman movies to a darker place than anyone had previously seen, but the release of the final installment was marred by the intrusion of darkness of an all too real variety. During the opening night release of The Dark Knight Rises on July 20, 2012, an armed assailant utilizing body-armor, tear gas canisters and multiple firearms walked into a midnight screening of the film in Aurora Colorado and opened fire on the assembled crowd - ultimately killing 12 people and wounding 70 more. The event was part of a wave of mass-shootings taking place in the U.S. on an increasingly regular basis over the last half-decade, which have reignited the contentious debate over gun-rights in the country.
Now, the event has inspired a provocative new film currently catching attention at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. Though it does not specifically dramatize any part the Aurora shooting, it makes direct and indirect reference to the events and carries the eyebrow-raising title Dark Night.
Directed by independent filmmaker Tim Sutton and referred to as largely formalist exercise by early reviews from the festival, the film opens in the immediate aftermath of a suburban mass-shooting similar to (and potentially inspired by) the Aurora massacre before tracking back to follow the largely-disconnected lives of various people involved (including the killer) in the days leading up to the event. As the day to day routines of soon-to-be victims and survivors play out, the presence of the film's real-life inspiration linger at the margins, including news images of the actual trial and a character sporting the Aurora shooter's now-infamous orange-dyed hair.
Here is the official poster for Dark Night, courtesy of Indiewire:
In an interview with Variety, Sutton was asked what had inspired him to tell this particular story:
"I started thinking about how horrible that shooting was and how horrible it was for the people in the theater and the families. But I also saw it as a wicked piece of performance art that was an American thing too. It felt that when he was throwing the smoke bombs and they were clapping, it felt like the scariest thing I heard of. It represented something that was both a death to people and also to our country. It felt like the sacred space of the movie theater had been corrupted forever."
The film also makes more direct symbolic reference to the shooting and the cultural iconography associated with it. Along with the bound to be controversial title, Dark Night also supposedly features its shooter trying on a variety of disguises in front of a mirror before settling on a Batman mask. In reality, a Batman mask was said to have been among the items discovered when police raided the booby-trapped apartment of the Aurora shooter, while other (unconfirmed) reports at the time of his apprehension claimed that he referred to himself as "The Joker" to arresting officers. Said Sutton:
“This is a layered movie. The Batman mask is a way to say we all know what this film is about and to stare it in the face.”
Thus far, there has been no comment on the film from Warner Bros, which released The Dark Knight Rises and owns the rights to the Batman character and imagery. The film, which only just debuted at Sundance to positive but not overwhelmingly so reviews, is still currently seeking distribution in the U.S. While the theater-related details of the Aurora shooting led to several Hollywood films changing or removing certain scenes in its immediate aftermath, no narrative films were made about the events. Historically, dramatizations of present-day mass-shootings have been a tough sell for audiences (and studios,) with both Gus Van Sant's Elephant and Uwe Boll's Heart of America - films inspired by the 1999 Columbine High School massacre - receiving limited distribution and mixed reviews several years ago. At this point, it's unlikely that Dark Night would ever receive a wide release, though a limited run may be possible if reviews determine it to be a worthwhile examination of its themes rather than an attempt to cash in on a still-recent tragedy.
We'll let you know if Dark Night lands an official theatrical release date.