In high school there was a spell in which some guys I knew stumbled into something of an internet snuff phase. I remember having videos of people being hit by trains or beheaded recounted to me with wide-eyed awe and I remember feeling sick to my stomach. I remember wondering, if someone I loved were killed in a manner just jarring enough, would someone watch them die and excitedly recount it to their friends over lunch? And I remember reluctantly growing to understand that as long as someone filmed something someone would watch it.
Nightcrawler is the story of the people who film it.
The directorial debut of Dan Gilroy, whose writing credits include The Bourne Legacy and Real Steel, Nightcrawler stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Louis Bloom, a peculiar young man with zero career prospects until he sees a cameraman swoop in at the sight of a car fire. From there the film dives into a specific perversion of video journalism, as well as the overall perversion of modern news.
Nightcrawler explores these trends with intelligence. Though a little on the nose at points the film makes a series of frightening observations. It’s arguably at its most terrifying when it showcases the strategic presentation of information and imagery to the public via a source that is more interested in viewership and self-preservation than truth. Nightcrawler makes it absolutely clear to its viewers that the evening news is a television show, and it operates under the same guiding principles as Community or The Walking Dead. Ratings.
Scary as that sentiment is I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little disappointed by the film’s lack of tension. That absolutely isn’t to say there is no tension throughout Nightcrawler. The film’s jaw-dropping climax is a master class in suspense. But that sequence aside Nightcrawler is not an overly intense movie as some of the marketing material and it’s Halloween release date might lead you to believe.
I walked into Nightcrawler expecting a horrifying version of Drive, but that’s not what Nightcrawler is. Nightcrawler isn’t overly stylized or gut wrenching, it’s primary strength is it’s intelligent contemplation of the media. It’s much less a slasher than it is a public radio story. In fact, I’d say Nightcrawler is more a spiritual sibling to Anchorman 2 than any horror film.
I didn’t leave Nightcrawler chilled to the bone, despite Jake Gyllenhaal’s pony-tail’s best efforts. I left it in a familiar state of wonder, in an unpleasant curiosity I’d first felt in high school.
Why do people feel the need to watch those videos? Because they can? Do they watch them because they are there to be watched or are they there to be watched because someone knew people would watch them?
Nightcrawler poses a lot of great questions but perhaps most importantly it also ventures an answer.
Why is there a market for the documentation of death?
Because the documentation of death is rewarded.