Night Shot Review: Poetic Justice

Challenging study of trauma at RIDM finds new language for exploring stories of assault

5 mins read

Night Shot (Visión Nocturna)
(Chile, 80 min.)
Dir. Carolina Moscoso

“I’m very sorry about the situation,” a participant writes, “but I hope your wounds heal outside the law.”

This message appears among the intertitles that contextualise Carolina Moscoso’s Night Shot. It arrives late in the film and relatively far in the director’s story, but one senses that the disappointing news is the impetus for Moscoso’s thoughtful odyssey. The experimental Night Shot is a meditation on grief and trauma that eviscerates the broken system that protects aggressors while leaving survivors of sexual assault to their own devices. One senses that this film nearly ten years in the making was a brutal and exhausting journey for Moscoso, but a cathartic one.

Night Shot retraces an event that happened eight years prior to Moscoso’s exploration of the incident. (Timelines are murky in this archival collage that sifts through mediated memories.) Moscoso investigates an episode in which she joined several pals on a beach trip, during which her friend Gary raped her. Her recollection of the event, told through the onscreen text that hauntingly substitutes for narration, is stark and clear. The words contrast sharply with the images of boisterous fun one sees on screen. The archival videos, however, suggest that recorded history never tells a complete story.

Moscoso seems to have been one of those young people who saw the world through a viewfinder. An array of banal images create a patchwork quilt of memories that the director examines anew. They aren’t especially significant or visually striking images. One scene might see some friends at a party joust with a toilet plunger and a broom. Another depicts a road trip with a friend playing his guitar in the back seat. Another snippet documents a friend delivering a baby girl. The latter scene is both joyous and cruel. Moscoso reframes each seemingly random memory with onscreen text that further illuminates the incident at the beach, the mishandled investigation, and the pain the director masks in these images.

The title refers to a setting that Moscoso enjoys using for nighttime shoots. Flipping her low-grade consumer camera to evening mode, Moscoso takes “night shots” that capture nocturnal images with increased exposure. She explains how her shoots the following morning yield overexposed images of bright light with the camera settings left in their placement from the night before. The frames of Night Shot alternate between murky and grainy impressions to images of blinding white voids. Night Shot is not an aesthetically pleasing film by any measure, but the visuals weren’t composed with poetry in mind. They find meaning as Moscoso shifts them around and reframes them, taking seemingly inconsequential moments from her youth and interpreting them anew.

The director uses this memory bank to work through the betrayal of being violated by someone she trusts. The fleeting and seemingly random array of fragments evoke the ways in which recovery from trauma is not a linear path. Moscoso conveys how one must empathise with a survivor and find the right language with which to understand her experience.

This point is one that the authorities investigating the assault clearly do not attempt. The narrative text, now signalling the violent theft of Moscoso’s voice and agency, explains a cold medical examination (the doctor only gave her a morning after pill after expressing clear judgement and noting her discomfort) and apathetic investigators (a few unanswered phone calls give police the impression that Moscoso’s case isn’t worth pursuing). Not one element in the investigation seems to serve the young woman’s need for security and justice.

In working through the traumatic event, however, she provides a new record. Defying the system’s logic, she delivers a clear memory, drawn entirely from fragmented and unreliable images, that captures Gary’s deed and its effect on her. It’s a difficult process, but the wounds heal by the end.

Night Shot screens at RIDM Nov. 26 to Dec. 2.

Pat Mullen is the publisher of POV Magazine. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, and Complex. He is the vice president of the Toronto Film Critics Association.

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