Review by Sean Boelman
Suburban paranoia is a hot topic in thrillers these days, and Kevin Tran’s feature debut The Dark End of the Street (adapted from his own short of the same name) leans into that trend heavily. However, in trying to weave a mosaic between these neighbors whose suspicions of each other continue to rise, Tran fails to create the human connection that would have been central to the film’s success.
The movie takes place on a suburban street, moving through the different residences as suspicion of a pet killer starts to take hold of the community. It’s a basic set-up, but for the most part, it lives in the shadow of other great examples of this story done better (think “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street”).
Tran doesn’t explore many particularly new ideas in his film, nor is the dialogue particularly subtle or original (phrases to some extent of “Who could it be?” are repeated what starts to feel like endlessly), but much of the movie’s charm lies in its simplicity. It’s a bare-bones thriller, and an intriguing one at that.
One of the best things about the film is the way in which Tran builds suspense. Although the movie isn’t exactly a mystery, it leaves the audience questioning things in a similar way. As a result, the viewer buys into the feelings of suspicion and anxiety that the characters experience over the course of the seventy minute film.
Still, because there are so many characters, it is difficult to form an attachment to any one of them. Tran is clearly going for a level of realism, but the faux natural and often overly philosophical ramblings in which the characters are participating don’t always work, especially when they come out of younger mouths.
The movie does feature some interesting performances, but again, they are so short in nature that they don’t have much room to stand out. In more than a few moments, the delivery comes across as wooden, but that could be just as much due to the stilted dialogue as the actors’ performances.
Tran’s film is clearly micro-budget, but he makes the most out of what he has at his disposal. The cinematography and production design both do a good job of making the suburban setting feel encroaching. The score is also surprisingly excellent, creating an atmosphere even in situations where the tension is minimal.
The Dark End of the Street is a promising debut for filmmaker Kevin Tran, even if it is a bit too insubstantial to stick in one’s mind. At seventy minutes, it’s not much of a time commitment, but it will leave some viewers unsatisfied.
The Dark End of the Street hits VOD on August 11.