Pete (Cosmo Jarvis) befriends his estranged daughter, Laurie (Lauren Coe) but unable to reveal his identity to her, she becomes infatuated with him and he risks losing her before she even knows he’s her father. The second feature from director Nathalie Biancheri, co-written with Olivia Waring with Sadie Frost and Laurie Kynaston.
A parent reaching out to the child they never knew, without giving away who they really are, is not a new story, it has been done repeatedly and it’s one that requires a balance of intense drama, satisfying revelations and/or scandal to really succeed. The film starts out on good footing, the cinematography is impressive, sufficiently gritty and bleak to reflect the story it’s trying to tell, perhaps DP Michael Dymek picked up a few tips seeing Oscar-nominated Lukasz Zal at work on Cold War, where he worked as a grip. Cosmo Jarvis is perfectly the mould of a classic, uncomplicated male character, he’s brash and forthright, he works with his hands and he doesn’t come within a mile of subtlety, he gives you the character exactly as it should be done. The same goes for Lauren Coe, she’s lively and charismatic but ultimately naïve and inexperienced, stumbling her way through her teenage years like the majority of us did, it’s nothing to shout from the rooftops about but it’s a solid performance.
The acting and cinematography may be done well but when you get to the writing, that’s another story. The plot may be that Pete risks his friendship with Laurie because he’s too afraid to reveal that he’s her father but the extent to which this goes and how long she’s given to build the relationship up in her mind, is undeniably creepy and uncomfortable. It may be the filmmaker’s intention to make something that is awkward and tense but there’s no benefit to letting it run for so long, it’s entirely unsatisfying and leaves so little time to resolve things, coming across as rushed and limited. Of course, the film does have plenty of emotion to offer, Jarvis’s Pete can’t hide anything and his experience while getting to know Laurie is clearly intense and Coe’s Laurie is quite quickly someone you want to protect from the obliviousness she has to the perverse consequences of her feelings; however, this simply isn’t enough to make it worth the time. It doesn’t reach a tangible depth and the one scene that gets closest is less than half way into the film, sadly short lived and the rest is lightweight in comparison.
This film presents itself like a bull in a china shop, it’s as subtle as a sledgehammer and after thirty minutes, it’s unpalatably uncomfortable; there’s a massively missed opportunity to spend more time re-establishing their relationship after it’s revealed to Laurie that Pete is her father. It’s stuck in its ways of purely telling the awkward side of things, trying to make an impression but the real impact would have come from a more significant exploration of the relationship, its creation and reconciliation after his deception. There’s a clear inconsistency between the film’s visual and its writing, what you’re seeing at its base is the type of film it’s trying to be, it’s unglamorous, gritty and honest and though the acting reflects that, the script restricts it from fully realising that goal, it’s unfortunately too weak to carry the depth it sorely needs.
It’s frustrating to watch a film where you can see what the filmmakers were trying to do but they couldn’t pull it off; if the rest of the film reflected the initial scenes, then this would be well worth seeing but sadly, Nocturnal doesn’t manage to reach the intensity that this story deserved and needed. There are some great ingredients here but the end result feels unsatisfying and is almost irritating in its reluctance to move the story forward, ultimately failing to do justice to itself.