Review: It is Night in America

Directed by Ana Vaz, shot entirely on day for night, this wildlife eco-horror follows the trajectories of endangered species fleeing to escape extinction, in a sombre plot in which the animals look back at us.

When It is Night in America opens it feels as though we’re about to be treated to a horror film in the likes of The Shining, with an intensely dramatic score and a winding, sinister visual. It’s an interesting introduction which sets the tone perfectly for what follows. From that point on, every image has an ominous edge, it’s fascinating that shooting on day for night has that strong of an impact. Ana Vaz takes scenes that could be innocuous or naïve and adds a mystery, sadness and desolation. It highlights the underlying themes in what could be simply everyday footage.

The way that Vaz frames and combines the footage asks a big question of whether the animals’ territory is being invaded by humans or if they’re now trying to invade it themselves. It deals with their captivity and almost a desire for escape, looking for a life in the wild that no longer exists. There’s a strong and constant contrast between how the animals live versus city life, from the pacing to the sheer difference in ambient sounds and volume.

It does feel as though it veers slightly off course in its ending but at the same time, the choice of footage has a compelling quality throughout. Capturing the animals themselves is always going to be an easy way to draw in an audience, it’s still calming viewing even with its heavily contemplative atmosphere. At certain points when it’s exploring the human side of things, it even feels partially like a 1970s or 80s cop film with a noir edge. There’s a huge variety in the footage, but the quality and atmosphere are extremely consistent.

It is Night in America brings together an almost hypnotic combination of imagery, draping it in a thoughtful, pointed atmosphere. It manages to ask a lot of questions without ever needing to say anything. The use of day for night adds a number of different layers, while also enhancing the atmosphere to something more complex and melancholic, almost regretful. It’s far from what you’d expect for your typical wildlife documentary, taking on a fresh, unique and unexpectedly compelling style.

Verdict: ✯✯✯✯ | 8/10

Reviewed as part of Open City Documentary Festival 2022

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