By Night’s End is a visually well-crafted home-invasion thriller with a script so frustrating it practically sinks the entire experience. Written and directed by Walker Whited (with a story credit for Sean McCane), End chronicles a single night in the lives of troubled couple Mark (Kurt Yue) and Heather (Michelle Rose), whose marriage rests on a precipice. Mark is an unemployed job seeker just trying to keep their home together in the wake of their daughter’s tragic death. Heather is an Army veteran who runs a company with her father but knows it’s almost time to call it quits. Their little rural home is all they have left of their life together, and they’re in danger of losing it due to the added weight of medical and funeral expenses. Worse still is the fact that they’ve been silently dealing with their own grief, building up festering resentments.
It’s definitely not an ideal time for an intruder to enter their home looking for hidden money.
The basic premise is one told countless times: A group of protagonists is besieged by bad guys and must use various skills to fight back and escape. Unfortunately, End makes Mark and Heather incredibly, strangely dumb from the outset, in such a way that the home-invasion material is tarnished by a poor setup. Heather kills the initial intruder in a shootout and Mark insists the two wait an hour to call the police because, maybe, the money he was searching for could free them from their troubles. Although the script attempts to make this fit into the character’s desperation (and suspicion the money could be found and lost when the cops arrive), it just does not make sense or make the characters feel smart and capable. It makes their misfortunes feel entirely unavoidable. It’s a huge misstep.
That’s a shame because Whited does a pretty good job creating an atmosphere both inside and outside the house. It’s a rainy night, and further villains seem to emerge from the darkness whenever our heroes think they’ve caught a break. When the cops do show up, the moment of dashed hopes is appropriately grisly. The third act is well-choreographed and puts power in Heather’s hands, which is nice to see. It feels somewhat retrograde that Mark, a man of Asian descent, is so consistently emasculated, but Yue does a decent job playing the complicated side of his character, wounded by the “what-ifs” surrounding his daughter’s demise.
Still, most of the running time is taken up by the interpersonal drama between Mark and Heather, which is somewhat circular and repetitive. It’s not a particularly intense story, and despite the decent atmosphere and satisfying final action sequences, the story starts off on a bad foot and never corrects quite enough for this to be worth recommending. The team involved all have talent, and it appears in the past few years they’ve continued on to other projects. As a proof of concept, By Night’s End is a good demonstration of new potential but leaves a lot to be desired as a standalone thriller.