The Nocturnal Third
Make Of It What You Will

Low-budget indies that fall just a notch below the usual film-festival fare are odd ducks.  On the one hand, some of them end up being released by distributors who specialize in D-grade films.  Others just die a slow death, with friends and family being just about the only ones who ever see them.  Still others sneak out and find a small but significant enough audience to be an encouragement to the filmmakers.  The Nocturnal Third seems to be one of the latter, the second stripped-down DIY feature filmed in tag-team fashion by the producing partners of Wonder Mill Films, “a North Alabama-based organization telling Southern stories through narrative short and feature films.”

You won’t soon find The Nocturnal Third at your neighborhood home video store (if such an animal exists in your town any longer), and it will certainly never get a theatrical release of any kind.  It’s also unlikely to garner an invitation to any of the major film festivals. It is, however, available to stream and download at Amazon.com.

So why do I bother reviewing films like this?  Why did I elect to cover The Nocturnal Third in particular?

Kevin Maggard as Eli in The Nocturnal Third

Part of the answer is personal.  Back in the late ’80s, I did this kind of guerilla filmmaking myself—though the corresponding costs of production were significantly higher, and the quality of results significantly lower than is now typical.  So I have a lot of sympathy for aspiring filmmakers because I know how hard it is to see a concept through from screenwriting to screenings—much less distribution of any kind.  And I also have a keen interest in people who are driven enough and bold enough to set out on such a multi-year journey—plus curiosity about the stories they feel they need to tell.

I also believe that such indie films represent the future of feature filmmaking.  I’ve often said that I’d sooner see a hundred thus-and-suches than one more Avatar—so I simply feel compelled to put my keyboard where my mouth is.

But I only review about a tenth of these films that cross my path.  The Nocturnal Third caught my eye because of its unique feel, title, and concept.  In short, its central premise is based on the very mundane blue-collar observation that “the late shift can be torture.”  Heh.

Eli is an underqualified and overextended twenty-something (probably with student loans up the ying-yang, and likely to support Occupy Whatever… were he able to get his act together long enough to notice such things were going on).  He whiles his time away sketching doodles while trying to figure out how to manage his late-payment notices… on the clock. 

One night he gets his, uh, lucky break at the stone-products plant where he works: the manager asks him to monitor the automated machinery that runs on the, uh, graveyard shift.  When the usual accident-prone machine operator also unexpectedly shows up for the same shift—and when an odd salesman shows up looking for a tank of gas—Eli’s plan for catching up on his zees (and doodles) goes out the window… and the night descends into madness.  Sort of.

The technical qualities of the film are pretty uneven, ranging from inventive and intriguing to choppy and annoying.  But the central performances of Kevin Maggard and Luke Weaver as Eli and his chief tormentor are very appealing.  They bring an offbeat and youthful energy to the story that always keeps it involving.

Most of the performances in the minor roles, however, are pretty rough.  Still, director Benjamin Stark manages to keep a decent rein on the proceedings, and the film feels like it achieves the vast majority of what the production team intended.  It’s smart, slightly obtuse in an arty sort of way, and remarkably restrained and mature for an indie thriller.

If you’re looking for something offbeat, if not exactly rousing, The Nocturnal Third could probably provide you with an interesting evening’s entertainment.

The Nocturnal Third is unrated.  Things don’t get very grisly at all, even though much of the action involves hydraulic cutting machines and other heavy equipment—but there is a bit of violence and a little coarse language.

Courtesy of the filmmakers, Greg screened a promotional copy of The Nocturnal Third.