Starring: Adam Pally, Rosa Salazar, Rob Huebel
Directed by: Charles Hood (“Freezer Burn”)
Written by: Charles Hood (“Freezer Burn”) and Seth Goldsmith (debut)

After being taken home for a drunken one-night-stand, college football video coordinator Kevin (Adam Pally) realizes that he isn’t in the home of a new stranger, but rather that of his boss and mentor, Coach Will Campbell. To make matters worse, the girl he has slept with, Madeline (Rosa Salazar), has taken an entire bottle of Xanax in a suicide attempt. After discovering that Madeline has been having an affair with Coach Campbell, Kevin must fight to keep Madeline from falling asleep in order to keep her alive until more help can arrive.

Taking place almost exclusively on a single set, “Night Owls” is minimalistic and dialogue heavy. The script from Seth Goldsmith and Charles Hood is free flowing and the banter between Pally and Salazar is the best feature of the film, building chemistry while increasing the complexity of their relationship with every scene that takes place. It is extremely naturalistic in its portrayal of two strangers getting to know each other, and often times delightful to see them test each others conversational limits.

If there’s a reason above all else to see “Night Owls,” it is for the performance of Salazar. As someone who is under the influence nearly the entire film, Salazar takes this acting challenge head on and delivers a fantastic performance filled with humor, vulnerability and nuance that is certain to turn heads. The way in which she is able to balance the abrasiveness of the character with her intense likeability is brilliant, with her character building eventually taking precedence over her intoxication. If there is any justice in the cinematic world, Salazar’s phone should be ringing off the hook for future roles. That isn’t to say that Pally isn’t impressive in his own right. He’s able to step aside and play the straight-man to Salazar’s frequently off-the-wall character while at the same time, balancing dramatic chops, physical comedy and one-liner flare when needed.

There are a lot of thematic elements at play here including hero-worshipping, and the need to protect those we admire through any circumstances. Above all else, however, “Night Owls” is about two people coming together and going through years worth of drama in a single night. It’s a symbiotic relationship that thrives as Kevin is fighting to keep Madeline awake, and Madeline trying to awaken something in him. The script tends to shrink a bit in the bigger moments, including an ending that isn’t 100% satisfying, but “Night Owls” is a small scale dramatic comedy that works on the sheer talent of its two leads and is boosted even further by an admirable performance from Salazar.

For more coverage of SXSW 2015, click here.

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