In Night Comes On, Dominique Fishback (HBO's The Deuce) plays Angel, a young woman who leaves a juvenile detention facility on the eve of her 18th birthday, makes appropriate promises to her parole officer, and proceeds to buy a handgun.
She has a score to settle, but also a little sister named Abby (Tatum Marilyn Hall) in foster care, and the conflict between Angel's desire for revenge and her duty to family form the core of this intriguing movie, shot on location in Philadelphia and the Jersey Shore.
It's directed by Jordana Spiro, who as an actress on various television series (Ozark, Blindspot, My Guys) spent her free time volunteering with children in the Los Angeles foster-care system.
Her experiences inspired her to write a story (with Angelica Nwandu, founder of @theshaderoom on Instagram) about how the system affects young people. That narrative eventually became Night Comes On, built around the Angel character.
Early scenes show Angel leaving the detention facility alone, and though the rules require her to find a job and a place to stay, Angel has neither. To get them, she needs a valid ID, and she doesn't have that either. Night Comes On isn't a docudrama, but it's informed enough to give us a sense of the obstacles facing young women like Angel.
Not that she's much interested in legal requirements, anyway. She's motivated by a long-simmering grievance – it's her reason for living, and initially her only reason. Early scenes of Angel checking in on an old lover have the feel of someone tying up loose ends.
To that end, she meets with little sister, Abby, a sensitive and, as it turns out, rather crafty 10-year-old who senses something amiss in Angel, and instinctively acts to keep her close and under scrutiny. It's an interesting dynamic – Abby craves the love of her older sister, who's forgotten what it's like to be that vulnerable and needful. She didn't have an older sister, and we see her slowly come to grips with the idea that she is one, that she may have a purpose on this earth more urgent than revenge.
This unfolds during an impromptu trip to the Jersey Shore, itself a detour-laden odyssey of bus stops and missed connections. It makes for a narrative that's episodic and a little uneven, but one that yields an out-of-nowhere scene of remarkable power.
The sisters end up befriending some suburban girls who invite them into a tidy home. Abby eats cheese doodles and plays a parlor game while Angel wanders the hallways, looking at furnishings and items as though they are artifacts in a museum that describes a civilization alien and unknown to her. A place where moms make snacks, offer rides, take pictures of daughters, and hang them in the hallway. Where children are loved, cherished, prized.
Angel never knew that love. But what if she could summon it? What if it were in her to give Abby something she never had?
Night Comes On continues, all the way to the beach (echoes of Moonlight). Angel still carries her gun, but the more we know her, the less we feel she is likely to use it.