'Beyond the Night': Film Review

This intriguing suspenser is marked by excellent performances and eerie atmospherics.

A young boy exhibits mysterious psychic powers in Jason Noto's supernatural-tinged thriller.

Red state America provides the evocatively gloomy backdrop for Jason Noto's intriguing supernatural thriller. Revolving around a little boy who has inexplicable knowledge about a town he has never seen and a missing teenage girl he never knew, Beyond the Night boasts tense atmosphere to spare. The film, which includes actor Adrian Grenier among its executive producers, marks an auspicious debut for its writer/director.

The story begins with soldier Ray Marrow (Zane Holtz, Hunter Killer) returning from overseas just in time for the death of his wife who has been in a coma since a devastating car accident. The tragic event provides the opportunity for Ray to reconnect with his 5-year-old son Lawrence (Azhy Robertson), who was miraculously unhurt in the crash.

After the funeral, Ray takes his son to live in the nondescript, former coal mining town where he and his wife grew up. There they reunite with Ray's deputy sheriff sister Catherine (Tammy Blanchard), who has never met her nephew. It isn't long before Lawrence, who sports a huge red birthmark on his face that invites gawking and worse, begins exhibiting odd behavior involving an apparent awareness of a mysterious disappearance that occurred years earlier. The missing person was the 15-year-old daughter of Bernard Coleman (Chance Kelly), the town's resident bad guy who seems to have his finger in a lot of dirty pies.

The filmmaker ratchets up the tension slowly but surely in this low-budget indie effort. The story becomes particularly effective with a surprise twist that provides a chilling possible reason for Lawrence's eerie insights for which there are no rational explanation. It leads to the most powerful scene, in which the grieving Bernard confronts the little boy in an effort to find out what happened to his missing daughter.

There are several well-drawn supporting characters, including the town's pastor (Neal Huff), who seems to know more than he lets on; his brother, the sheriff (Skipp Sudduth) who's reluctant to investigate what he considers to be a cold case; and the protective child psychologist (Enid Graham) who Ray reluctantly agrees to let treat his son.

The screenplay boasts a psychological complexity rare for thrillers of this type, manifested most strikingly in the form of Bernard, who is far from a cardboard cutout villain. As superbly played by veteran character actor Kelly (American Sniper, Unbreakable), delivering the pic's finest performance, the character lends the narrative a deepening tragic quality. Not every plot element is fully convincing, however, with some scenes not ringing true. And the overly measured pacing proves a bit sluggish at times.

The other major players in the ensemble are equally strong. Holtz effectively underplays as the protective Ray whose quiet strength is evident despite his lack of macho bluster. Blanchard is warmly appealing as the supportive sibling whose skill with firearms comes in handy in several potentially violent standoffs. And child actor Robertson (seen recently in Juliet, Naked) delivers a haunting turn as the traumatized little boy.

Production companies: NewAley Pictures, Reckless Productions, SummerHawk Films, Warpath
Distributor: Breaking Glass Pictures
Cast: Zane Holtz, Tammy Blanchard, Chance Kelly, Neal Huff, Skipp Sudduth, Enid Graham, Sherman Howard, Beth Glover, Peggy J. Scott, Caitlin Mehner, Ashy Robertson
Director-screenwriter: Jason Noto
Producers: Robin Garvick, Erik Weigel
Executive producers: Robin Garvick, Adrian Grenier, Becky Newhall, Ashton Newhall, Jim Lim
Director of photography: Daniel Sharnoff
Production designer: Hannah Stoddard
Editor: Kathryn Schubert
Composer: Erik Nickerson
Costume designer: Gina Ruiz
Casting: Sig De Miguel, Stephen Vincent

98 minutes