Verging on an existential nightmare, Half a Mile Out on the Night introduces viewers to Dakota (Hannah Alline) as she longs for her lost forbidden love, Charlie (Erin Ownbey). Drifting from town to town, Dakota embarks on a booze-fueled trek to find Charlie or some form of closure. After meeting various strangers, there appears to be little hope as Dakota spreads her personal brand of nihilism like a missionary shares the gospel. But as mysterious dreams and vivid hallucinations flood her mind, Dakota is left wondering if there is any hope for closure in a forgotten world.
Dakota is a troubled character, beginning with her opening ramblings about poetry, eternity, and the inevitability of decay. She coasts through most of her travels with a constant status of being comfortably numb to the world, only living through her flashbacks to her days with Charlie. From petty theft to various misdemeanors and coming across a crime scene, Dakota tries her best throughout the film to fit into a world she knows she hates.
Half a Mile Out on the Night consistently has the viewer questioning, “How reliable is Dakota?” It will even have you asking, “How reliable are our perceptions?” The flashbacks answer some questions about our beaten-down protagonist, but they also raise further questions about Dakota’s past. It feels very Secret Window in how unreliable our characters may be, especially during the acid-trip-esque climax. Paired with the twisted storytelling, Hannah Alline gives a good performance as Dakota, utterly selling her numb-to-the-world, Aubrey Plaza-minus-the-humor vibe.
“…mysterious dreams and vivid hallucinations flood her mind…”
My experience with the movie was slightly confusing. There are moments when I was unsure if Dakota was supposed to be a philosophical poet commenting on the sorrows of the world or if I was supposed to see her as a discursive armchair philosopher. Dakota is an interesting character, and her self-described ramblings are intriguing. However, with a story built entirely on her odyssey, it made me second-guess the tone in several scenes.
Having that uncertainty is not inherently a bad thing. However, when it disrupts the rhythm and overall story, it does make the film hard to engage with. By the time you begin to feel comfortable with Dakota and her story, you are confronted with an abrupt ending that verges on bizarre (not to spoil anything but the end does come with minimal step-up or closure).
I was initially really taken in by Hannah Alline’s performance as Dakota and honestly enjoyed the flashback/ dreamlike sequences in Half a Mile Out on the Night. The movie has an intriguing story to tell and does feature some good performances. However, the inconsistency of the tone and the desultory ending took me out of the film. I will completely admit that my eyes were glued to the screen during the finale. However, without a logical step-up or foreshadowing, I found myself asking, “What is happening?” more than being enthralled by a powerful conclusion.
"…you are confronted with an abrupt ending that verges on bizarre."