Tran slowly builds a story almost in the style of vignettes, bouncing between different lives without rushing to connect them. Marney (Brooke Bloom) is the woman who has been the latest victim of the murderer, as she comes home in the opening minutes of the movie to talk to her older neighbor Ian (Anthony Chisholm), and then to find her dead pet on the floor. It’s a horrific moment, especially with the scream she elicits upon seeing it off-camera, but the pulse of this movie is not that of terror. Marnie is later seen grieving, quietly, and Ian arrives with two beer bottles, hoping to keep her company. They have one of the movie’s most tender scenes as they talk about why they live where they do.
Getting to know the backgrounds of these New Jersey residents is a big part of the effect of Tran’s script, especially when it comes to their philosophies that are engrained in why they chose the ‘burbs. As Tran displays a gentle touch, the story is about spending time with them, like how Keith (Daniel K. Isaac) and his wife Sue (Jennifer Kim) worry about their safety in the neighborhood. Or it’s in how expectant father Jim (Scott Friend) talks with Richard (Jim Parrack), a new guy he met at a bar, about the value of education. They share the movie’s ultimate hangout sequence, which is one of many moments in which we get to know friendly faces by small chat.
Jim’s wife Patty (Lindsay Burdge) stays at home because she’s exhausted. She writes a poem, and reads it outloud to her unborn child. The sequence is intercut with images of some kids skateboarding at night. Like a good deal of moments in “The Dark End of the Street,” it floats.
Tran has a loving eye for the suburbs, with its fenced-in skate park and homes that all have different kitchens. Sometimes his camera seems to be watching from outside, but not in a mysterious pet killer way, and other times it’s in a random living room, laying back with the people and space with a wide shot. Even if that means watching a few teens have band practice in a basement—a bassist, a drummer, and a guy screaming into “What the f**k is up” into an upside-down beer bottle—it’s all a part of the piece, and telling of Tran’s sense of humor and openness as a storyteller.