Midnight Special | Review
MIDNIGHT SPECIAL is one of the most clever films released in 2016. It is an 80’s styled science fiction homage that would not be out of place as an X-FILES episode or the latest book from Stephen King directed by Spielberg. It proves that you don’t need a huge budget to make a brilliant science fiction, you just need film companies to market it. Sadly this never occurred and as such this sci-fi classic, that was made for only $18MIL basically never saw the light of screen and has remained mostly unheard of. MIDNIGHT SPECIAL is out now on home entertainment from Roadshow, it runs for 112mins and is rated M. SEE IT NOW!!!
**** The poster used in this article is an artistic poster created by Mondo – not the official poster. Head to Mondo for some sublime movie artworks ****
BY JASON KING
MIDNIGHT SPECIAL PLOT:
In a time when 80s is cool again with STRANGER THINGS becoming a television phenomenon MIDNIGHT SPECIAL should have done the same. It is a remarkable example in low budget sci-fi with elements of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, E.T., FIRESTARTER, STARMAN and so on. Lead child character Alton, Jaeden Lieberher most notably from ST VINCENT, is a kid on the run with two men. His father, Michael Shannon as Roy, and State Trooper Lucas (Joel Edgerton). Alton is light and noise sensitive and is mostly seen wearing blue tinted swimming goggles. You don’t know their back story and each element of the movie adds more questions as to what the actual frack is happening.
At first you may think he has been kidnapped but he is so calm. You later discover he is a messiah of sorts for a cult who believe he is a prophet. He has some incredibly light outbursting fits that induce prophecies from him. This “cult” worships him and his prophecies. Roy, his father, believes in the same but cannot have him held by the religious group. The government is also after him and will stop at nothing to get their hands on him. His mother, Sarah (Kirsten Dunst) is removed from the religious group and it appears separated from Roy, but she will do whatever it takes to protect her son.
MIDNIGHT SPECIAL is a race to get to a place that Alton sees in his trance vision fits.
Director Jeff Nichols is not usually known for making a movie that would make J.J. Abrams jizz. His movie MUD is a sublime character study of a person (Mud – Matthew McConuaghey) who has made terrible choices and shows his way of living with them. I have not seen his first movie, SHOTGUN STORIES, but it reads a similar character arc. His next film TAKE SHELTER is on par with MIDNIGHT SPECIAL but from viewing the two I would have picked this as the first movie leading to TAKE SHELTER and not the other way around. TAKE SHELTER looks at a man plagued by apocalyptic visions that could be signs of pending disaster of visions of a madman. And like TAKE SHELTER we find a mildly similar story in MIDNIGHT SPECIAL. They also both star Michael Shannon.
Nichols will leave most questions unanswered in this but will give you a masterclass in the brilliance of underdoing everything. MIDNIGHT SPECIAL is a masterclass in less is more. It is very UnHollywood, it spells nothing out, it just occurs and takes you along for the ride. Backstories are trickled out and mostly left unaddressed. Character development is also the same and the film is filled with a sublime score from David Wingo that keeps pace and tension in a lot of non-dialogue scenes.
While low budget by Hollywood standards Nichols packs everything in. Impressive car chases, some amazing special effects and a visual look that belongs more with a blockbuster. This is helped along nicely by cinematographer Adam Stone who has filmed every Nichols film to date.
How do you make a low budget shine? Besides being incredibly talented you ring in movie talent that will do it for peanuts. It also helps if the talent is some of the best in the game. When Most A-game actor salaries exceed the total budget of MIDNIGHT SPECIAL it is superb to to see a cast list so impressive.
Michael Shannon is basically Nichols’ go-to man from now on. Shannon underplays it as much as the movie and has limited dialogue. He is a father who is torn between worrying to death and protecting his son and resigned to the fact his son could be an alien religious messiah. He is basically along for the ride out of love and duty of care, he has no choice in his destiny. Joel Edgerton is always a personal fave, especially after meeting him (#brag). His character, Lucas, has abandoned his post as a State Trooper to protect Alton and we have no idea why besides loyalty and a personal experience he will not explain.
Jaeden Lieberher delivers a performance beyond his years. I loved this kid in ST VINCENT and he nails it again in this. While everyone is rallying around Alton, it is Alton who is possibly a messiah of sorts and his delivery is crucial for this movie to work. It works a treat.
The cast is finalised with Kirsten Dunst as mother Sarah, Kyle Ren oh I mean Adam Driver as NSA agent Sevier and Sam Shepard as “cult” leader Calvin Meyer. While these are all superb support characters their parts were too small to have an overwhelming impact.
MIDNIGHT SPECIAL is a masterclass in less is more. It is a low budget 80’s styled science fiction that belongs in the archives with the greats. The acting is superb, the direction as superb and this film demands a cult following. The big budget potential sequel I could see J.J. Abrams fighting to direct. This will make my Top 20 films of 2016 and the Blu Ray will make my collection.
Jason King owns, writes and edits Salty Popcorn and Spooning Australia. He is a movie, food, restaurant, wine, chocolate, bacon, burger and brussels sprouts addict. He is a member of the Australian Film Critics Association and has been in the Australian movie industry for 26yrs. Furthermore he loves watching people trip over and is Leonardo DiCaprio’s biggest fan.
** Images used are courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor or publisher Credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.