It cannot be denied, By Day and By Night by Mexican Director Alejandro Molina has an excellent premise: When over-population made co-existence impossible, the Government decided to divide the population by implanting an enzyme into people's DNA. Hence, all humans are now regulated by solar light and darkness, transforming people into either day or night inhabitants. A forensic doctor, who is a day inhabitant, searches for her lost daughter, who lives in the nighttime and is being cared for by a scientist.
When I read the synopsis, I was incredibly excited. What an idea! but alas, such an idea fails to lived up to its potential…This disappointment stems from a poorly executed story as well as, for those who don’t speak Spanish, a dreadful translation in the subtitles.
We are shown this fascinating new world that is beautifully photographed and has some very impressive special effects. The state of its inhabitants is explained gradually, yet quite sloppily, and there is an abundance of over-the-top philosophical conversation between the inhabitants, mostly led by a mysterious elderly man. But unfortunately, all of the abstract, philosophical chatter is unnecessary. If Molina wants us to question society, humanity and our own mortality, he should lead us there in the narrative, instead of having characters randomly ram it down our throats.
Another issue occurs with the flawed execution of the narrative. The story meanders, progressing in seemingly random bursts. This is largely due to a lack of organized three act structure, with clear plot points to move the story forward with correct cinematic pacing. The mother does not find her daughter, which is meant to be the inciting incident, until 57 minutes in but then their escape from this controlling regime is sudden, easy and unexplained. After all, what are they going to do when they get out? The third act on the beach, after the three characters have escaped, is painfully slow as we don’t know why we are here. The ending (the solution to the question we have been asking throughout), which should have been incredibly moving, but is so abrupt in comparison to the previous, meandering scenes that it is ridiculous, almost laughable.
Everything is there: the actors, the photography, the sets, the premise, the special effects, a wonderful beautiful score. But without an organized structure to tell the story, the movie falls apart at the seams.