E.L. King calls the New Nightmare Prize winner for Best Debut Film, Take Back the Night a creature feature about grief, trauma, and the struggle to be believed through a horror lens.
Take Back the Night, directed by Gia Elliot and co-written with star Emma Fitzpatrick is likely to be triggering for some as it mirrors the aftermath of a sexual assault. It's a story about grief, trauma, and the struggle to be believed following an assault through a horror lens. The film is a terrifying and thought-provoking social critique under the guise of a horror thriller. It's safe to say that it is no coincidence that the film's title is shared with 501(c)(3) charitable organization, the Take Back The Night Foundation which takes action against sexual violence and intimate partner violence.
The film follows Jane (Fitzpatrick), who finds herself the victim of a violent monster attack. She is determined to hunt down the creature, but Jane's history of drug use and mental illness causes those around her to question the authenticity of her account of the attack. With a sinister force stalking her whose existence she can't prove, she begins to doubt her own memory and if the monster is real.
"A riot girl creature feature for the Instagram age."
Elliot discussed her passion project, which was an endeavor four years in the making with Fangoria Magazine in July 2021 stating, "If you are violently attacked by a monster, you can tell your friends, you can tell your family, you can tell your community. You can also tell the Internet, and the Internet brings trolls, and trolls plant seeds of doubt that call into question the foundational reality of your story, but it can also connect you to an army of people who want not only see that same monster but want to help you fight back. Co-writer and star Emma Fitzpatrick and I were compelled by the theme of ‘what’s real and who decides’ so we set our white-knuckled, riot girl creature feature in the Instagram age and took the protagonist on a mind-bending thrill ride through the grittiest parts of LA."
As things begin to unravel emotionally and what's real is called into question, we discover that there is an element at play devastatingly darker than Jane's stalking monster. It is a monster of society's making motivated by the personal gain of not only the Detective (Jennifer Lafleur) but her partner the Reporter (Sibongile Mlambo). Everyday battles with mental illness are often demonized by society and that also plays a role in the film. Luckily for Jane, there is a light in the darkness. The voices of other survivors surface, rallying Jane's sister to her side.
"No means no, Motherfucker!"
This film should make audiences angry. Angry at the system that continually allows victims to be made into villains and how society supports that system. When a system that is meant to protect us doesn't believe us and works to tear us down to avoid tax-payer dollars being spent on processing physical evidence kits, we really are in trouble. The audacity of the Detective, manipulating Jane to force a retraction statement made our blood boil. When bad things happen, you shouldn't have to be society's classification of a model citizen to be believed. Take Back the Night points the finger at the system and calls it out for how biased and backward it is.
The shadow creature is a terrifyingly beautiful phasing monstrosity that's representative of every abuser who's gone unpunished. The final act includes a battle for survival that is bathed in gritty neon horror and that is sure to thrill. Fitzpatrick delivers an authentic and harrowing performance, giving us a likable and relatable protagonist. Elliot touches on important systemic issues grounded in a world of victim blaming. While it's hard to watch, it's also hard to look away.
Take Back the Night had its world premiere at the Popcorn Frights Film Festival and is now streaming on Shudder.