Updated: Jul 22, 2021
While at first glance, By Night’s End (2020) may seem like a run-of-the-mill home invasion thriller, it actually speaks to much larger implications about representation, casting, and the importance of diversity in film.
When a burglar breaks into the home of married couple Heather (Michelle Rose) and Mark (Kurt Yue) in search of a mysterious treasure buried beneath the house, the homeowners are forced to kill him in self-defense. Before calling the police, they decide to take one hour to search for the treasure themselves, as the money could put an end to their financial woes.
As you can imagine, things don’t go as planned.
By Night’s End is the debut feature of Walker Whited, who wrote and directed the film, and I commend Whited for getting this picture made as an independent filmmaker. The film is a well-executed, if somewhat by-the-numbers, home invasion thriller. I know that making a feature is no easy feat, and By Night’s End is competently helmed for Whited’s first directorial effort.
Michelle Rose and Kurt Yue both deliver solid performances in the lead roles, particularly Yue who was very likable and sympathetic as the guilt-stricken husband, grieving over the recent loss of their daughter. There was one scene in particular – a quiet, dramatic scene between husband and wife in the attic – where both actors truly shine.
The writing was frustrating at times, with characters rather clumsily fumbling their way through covering up the death of the intruder, which had me helplessly yelling at the screen. But I suppose it makes sense, as they’re meant to be just an ordinary married couple and not professional criminals.
Still, common sense seemed to go out the window a couple of times.
Unfortunately, it falls victim to some of the same problems as The Strangers, such as clueless characters doing silly things that real people just wouldn’t do. But alas, if the characters simply called the police or high-tailed it out of the house, it would be a very short and uninteresting movie. Pitfalls of the genre, I suppose. However, the film did attempt to offer a reason for why both the homeowners and bad guys would stick around for so long, with the plot device of the valuable treasure buried beneath the house.
But if it was me, I still would’ve been out of there.
That leads to my final problem, which is that once we learn what the “treasure” actually is, the characters’ subsequent actions don’t seem very logical. Unfortunately, the film unravels a bit at the end, but it was still a fun thrill ride throughout. Whited delivers with his direction some solid thrills and suspense that held my attention for the 1-hour 25-minute runtime. Overall, it was an enjoyable popcorn thriller that suffers from the cliches of the genre but boasts some solid tension, performances, and casting choices.
In fact, the casting was what I loved most about By Night’s End.
I’ve already praised Kurt Yue’s performance as the husband Mark, but the simple fact that he was cast at all is my favorite thing about the film. It was a role that could’ve been played by an actor of any ethnicity (let’s be real, a role that you’d typically expect to see played by a white actor) but instead, they chose to cast an Asian-American actor. And that is awesome.
Unfortunately, Asian actors tend to only be cast in major roles when the fact that they’re Asian is somehow relevant to the plot. (See: Crazy Rich Asians, Doctor Strange, The Karate Kid.) It was 2018’s Searching, a thriller starring John Cho in a lead role that had nothing to do with his race, that first made me sit up and take notice of this issue of Asian representation in film. The seemingly race-blind casting in By Night’s End seems to be following in that film’s progressive footsteps. I applaud Kurt Yue, Walker Whited, and the film By Night’s End for being another step on the path to diversity in cinema. I hope this is a trend that we see continue.