The rebels who drive the grim and airless teen drama "As Night Comes" may think they have a cause — something vaguely about individualism. But as expressed by the group's nasty, androgynous ringleader, Ricky (Luke Baines), it comes off as little more than an unconvincing excuse for cruel and anarchic behavior. (It's no coincidence the film's band of outsiders known as the Misfits goes to a revival showing of "A Clockwork Orange.")
Fortunately, there's someone to root for in this suburban wild bunch. That would be Sean (a strong Myko Olivier), a compassionate guy with literary ambitions who becomes beholden to the unstable Ricky after an incident involving Sean's abusive father. But Sean doesn't really belong with the Misfits, which becomes fully evident when he attracts the pretty, forthright and better-off Sarah (Evanne Friedmann).
Sides have long been drawn between the Misfits and the town's "cooler" kids, but now Sean is caught in the middle. Things quickly worsen when a popular jock (Ryan Shoos) rats out the Misfits' illegal underground club to his sheriff dad. This causes Ricky and company to go on a vengeful rampage against the "high school elitists," all amid a pre-Halloween ritual known as "Mischief Night."
Director Richard Zelniker, who co-wrote with then-16-year-old Ryan Koehn, attempts a serious look at teen alienation, classism, domestic violence and more. But these themes are diluted by the movie's extremely dour vibe, thin characterizations and limited context. Only Sean is given any real dimension, but even that's undercut by the filmmaker's choice to withhold a pivotal flashback until far too late.
There's power and authenticity here. And by the movie's incendiary climax, some tension. If only it were presented in a more magnetic package.
"As Night Comes"
MPAA rating: R for bloody violence, sexual content, language, teen drug and alcohol use.
Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes.
Playing: At Laemmle's Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills.