The truth is, a well-made thriller movie does not need blood spewing out from severed limbs or loud sound effects that pound your ears every minute. Opening a new era of the thriller movie industry that had been dominated with stereotypical slasher films starring serial killers, Dan Gilroy’s “Nightcrawler” has succeeded in creating the ultimate sense of horror only with the cold eyes of Jake Gyllenhaal and his video camera while the film also conveys a shocking message to the viewers.
“Nightcrawler” depicts the life of the main character Lou Bloom and his eager yet creepy struggle to succeed in the TV industry. Once a petty thief suffering from unemployment, Lou starts his career as a “nightcrawler”, a photojournalist that films shocking accidents or crimes and sell the clips to TV stations. Despite having no experience in the TV industry whatsoever, he establishes his own news gathering business, hires a new employee for a very small salary, and successfully sells his video clips to Nina, a news director at a local TV news station.
Lou used to be a thief without a stable job, and he had to start from scratch when he jumped into the TV business. Nevertheless, he builds up his reputation in the industry with confidence and perseverance, claiming that “good things come to those who work their asses off.” He is bold enough to enter into a huge company building and bargain with people he has never seen before. And, he quickly learns and adapts to the new environment by constantly raising questions and asking for help. Imprudence and carefulness coexist within him.
But he is a sociopath: he lacks the ability to sympathize with others, making him an emotionless figure who is willing to do anything in order to get what he wants. He doesn’t call the police after witnessing a crime for his filming, trespasses into victims’ houses, and even moves a dead body for a better shot. His madness reaches its peak when he emotionlessly records his competing nightcrawler Joe who got wounded from a car accident that Lou had planned. As the plot develops, he unleashes his monster inside him that gets obsessed with achieving greater fame and success.
“Morning news, if it bleeds it leads,” says Joe, Lou’s rival cameraman. His advice to Lou discloses the broadcasting stations’ competition for violent and sensational footages. The film’s description of the relationship between the nightcrawlers and the broadcasting companies realistically portrays the modern media’s excessive use of “yellow journalism”. TV stations in the film explicitly show how the media nowadays demands sensational and eye-catching news materials in order to increase the viewership ratings. And Nina’s obsession with the ratings combined with Lou’s desire for success turns into a perfect example of yellow journalism, revealing the dark side of modern journalism that we aren’t familiar with.
This movie makes a bold confession for the modern media’s flaws; the unpleasant symbiosis between the TV industry and nightcrawlers leads to the distortion of facts and neglection of its original duty, which is to deliver the truth by informing worthy and significant news objectively. However, the real horror begins when you realize that the fundamental cause for this unethical journalism is none other than the viewers themselves. In the film, Dan Gilroy makes a point that the viewers have a tendency to focus on graphic materials rather than social or international issues and that the media, considering the clients’ demand, only look for sensational stories and reconstruct them. This ugly truth also tells us that characters like Lou are actually created by our own demand for sensationalized news stories, and it leaves us with a powerful message that journalists, the media, and the viewers are all responsible for making the news more worthy and meaningful.