Night Comes On pays special attention to tender touches.
Directed by Jordana Spiro, a first-time feature filmmaker who co-wrote the screenplay with Angelica Nwandu (partly based on Nwandu’s experiences as a foster child), Night Comes On centers on two sisters: Angel (Dominique Fishback), who is released from juvenile detention just prior to her 18th birthday; and the younger Abby (Tatum Marilyn Hall), who has bounced around in foster care since the murder of their mother. They reunite, but not necessarily to form a family unit. We soon learn that Angel is only interested in getting information from Abby to help her in an ill-advised scheme to avenge their mother’s death.
Fishback, who has been acting in television since 2014, gives a subtly revealing performance, considering Angel’s main character trait is standoffishness. She puts up walls by lowering her eyelids, and uses those eyes—along with her shifting posture—to visibly regulate her guardedness. When she does allow emotion to sneak out, it’s jarring, as when a stray tear is violently wiped away at one point. Later, when she lets slip a smile during an impromptu trip to the beach, only a few moments pass before it’s quickly tucked back behind her sullen mask.
With this tough outer shell and a shattered sense of self worth (“You think I’m this OK person but I’m not,” she tells Abby), Angel is reminiscent of one of the subjects of the great Steve James documentary The Interrupters, a teen girl who has been in and out of detention centers and feels she doesn’t deserve anything better. “Do you want to be loved? Absolutely,” a counselor tells her. “Do you deserve to be loved? Absolutely.” Night Comes On seems to be saying the same thing to Angel. This is especially true in the ghostly sequences in which her mother appears to her, including—in one stirring instant—when her mother cuddles her from behind as she sleeps on the tile lobby of an apartment building, having found nowhere else to rest her head.
And then there are those tender touches. Here and there, Spiro’s camera captures tiny gestures that speak volumes: Abby reaching out to hold Angel’s hand; an errant toddler in Abby’s foster home instinctively hugging Angel and not letting go; Angel braiding Abby’s hair on a bus; the two of them giggling and impulsively clutching each other while being whomped by waves on that beach. This is a movie that’s honest about night coming on, but it also reminds us of the small things that will get you through that night, until the morning dawns.