The economically efficient thriller By Night’s End wastes little time setting the scene for its viewers. We first meet Heather (Michelle Rose) and Mark (Kurt Yue) during a time of uneasy transition for them both. While the cause of tension is not immediately clear, the film forges ahead, depositing clues to their discomfort along the way. We learn Heather is in a job she hates, Mark has yet to find new work, and despite the smaller confines of their new home, the couple seems committed to making things work.
A heaviness still hangs over them, as we learn they are also dealing with the loss of their young daughter, for which Mark feels a crippling responsibility. But that weight is about to get a lot heavier when their home is broken into by a strange man rummaging for something apparently stored within it. Former military officer Heather unloads a clip into him, but not before the burglar offers them both thousands of dollars to let him walk away.
As Mark is dialing the police, he pauses and posits a plan for them to hunt around the house for the goods before getting authorities to the scene. It is here that By Night’s End makes perhaps its largest logical leap in an otherwise effective modest-budget action thriller. It does not present a reason why the police should not be called at that moment, and the couple continues their search after the authorities leave.
Regardless, the intruder was only a foot-soldier for a more maniacal mastermind, Moody (Michael Aaron Milligan), who is quite determined to get whatever is hidden within the house and seems willing to go to extreme lengths to acquire it.
“…their home is broken into by a strange man rummaging for something…”
Despite the budgetary limitations and cramped quarters of the tiny suburban home, writer/director Walker Whited layers the suspense with the mounting tension and grief of the main characters. The movie is packed with subtly smart shots: panning to follow the leads from outdoors to inside with a seamless edit; a tracking shot that shadows Heather outside the house while stopping to peer at the action inside; a super slow-mo shoot-out that provides the perspective of all involved.
Whited unpacks pieces of the story alongside the action, providing us with a connection to the lead characters and their internal conflicts as they navigate through the escalating chaos. All the leads enhance the narrative, with Yue effectively conveying a man who has yet to come to terms with his daughter’s death and Milligan showboating as he stalks his prey but never tipping the scale into camp.
But it’s Rose who really shines as the former soldier grappling with domesticity while haunted by visions of her military history. The actor’s years as a stunt performer (The Expendables, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Avengers: Endgame) are used to full effect in the final act when she is required to showcase her physical prowess to elude her adversaries.
Leaps of logic are a staple of the action-thriller genre. Hell, the Fast and Furious franchise has built a cinematic empire defying all principles of gravity, physics, and the musculoskeletal system. And while the central conceit of By Night’s End asks us to take a narrative jump equivalent to a Vin Diesel-like vault, it’s worth hanging on and going along for the ride, as it provides a pretty thrilling view.
"…unpacks pieces of the story alongside the action, providing us with a connection to the lead characters..."