A Shot in the Dark, directed by Gulinoz Javodova (who wrote the script with Tony Glynn) presents a story that we have seen many times before; a young and talented artist who is on the cusp of beginning the star-studded career they’ve always dreamed about. A structure more commonly known as The Hero’s Journey (a character sets out and is ultimately changed by the experience), it’s a story that we always seem to love. Unfortunately this time round we are let down by quite a poor script.
Isa (Rachel Finninger) is our protagonist, a budding new photographer who dreams of being a DOP in Hollywood. Isa is introduced looking at photographs (taken by “noobs”) of projects that she dismisses as “pretentious” (while artfully sucking on a cigarette) while she seems convinced her successful future is pretty much guaranteed and will be much better. Her assistant Kyle (Orlando Clinton Jr.) goes out of his way to help her, seemingly amazed that he gets to be in her company and is allowed to flirt with her. Rather than showing us someone who deserves greater things in the future we see someone who is trying to disown her present as it’s beneath her. It’s an odd and unsympathetic place to begin for a character on this journey.
This is saved by two brilliant performances from the leads. Both Finninger and Clinton Jr. deliver the clunky dialogue with more weight than script gives them, while also silently conveying a deeper, unvoiced emotion in their faces. It elevates what were two caricatures to two people with depth, complexity and (especially in the case of Isa) vulnerability. Which is lucky, because the film is about to offer a twist; Isa is going blind.
Obviously the idea of losing your sight, especially at the young age of the characters, is devastating but the film doesn’t appear to be saying much more than this. Again the script lets us down; in the first two minutes Isa explains the value of our senses and how we take them for granted, while the following ten minutes shows Isa losing her sight. The film’s message therefore feels a little on the nose but also more than a little confused because it’s narrative is more concerned with showing us the effects of someone losing their art rather than their senses; Isa appears distracted and disconnected from her colleagues; she snaps at Kyle; she stands motionless on set while the camera pulls away from her showing the busy world flashing by; and eventually she ends up in her nightmare job taking cheap portraits at a strip mall. This all leaves an odd taste in the mouth because it is unclear whether we are to feel sorry for a character that has to work a job she once thought beneath her or because a future has been cruelly taken away by a twist of fate. Either way A Shot In The Dark just leaves Isa stuck in a dead end.
The script may be subverting the tropes of the Hero’s Journey but in its execution it does not leave a satisfying ending. However whatever the conclusion the film is trying to give us, the real problem is the story isn’t making any obvious point here, in fact, it achieves little more than giving us a “what-if?” scenario – what if you suddenly went blind? And we probably already know that that would be pretty awful.