Testament to the power of original storytelling Midnight Special is a tremendous achievement that reminds us why cinema is more than just high paid actors in spangled spandex.
Shuddering beauty and gripping emotion permeate every word, every performance, every reverberate pulse of the score leaving the viewer spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing a favourite moment.
There’s something inherently mysterious about Midnight Special, to the point where even the cinema attendant had to ask us what it was about. We replied with a shrug of the shoulders, reluctant to look either pretentious or ignorant, handed over a small pension and took our seats in the vacant screen.
For a film that came out three days ago (as of writing) it just goes to show how saturated the market has become by mind-numbing action thrillers and animated spin-offs. With barely 10 people seated, unable to lay out the premise between us we weren’t really sure what to expect when the lights went down.
News of a missing boy, Alton Meyer believed to be travelling with Roy Tomlin, interjects between the opening credits as we’re given some context through broadcast news breaks on the box. On the run from a Texan religious cult led by Calvin Meyer, together with Lucas the three travel the south on their journey to a very specific location in time for a very specific event. The details of which are frequently nullified to add to the mystery , yet we never feel rejected as an audience, we’re drawn in, become further invested.
This is largely down to the incredible performances from Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, and Jaeden Lieberher as the three fugitives.
Hiding out under a sheet with blue goggles and a torch Alton sits reading comics, quietly waiting for dark when the three will once again hit the road. Meanwhile The Ranch, the cult that Roy and Alton escaped, is under investigation by the FBI to locate Alton and find the truth about his powers.
Paul Sevier, an impeccable Adam Driver casts of emo Kylo Ren for his role as an NSA analyst is roped in to find out how Alton knows so much about top secret government communications. The likes of which have become the subject of Calvin Meyer’s sermons.
While the government determine this as a breach of national security, concerned more about the well being of national secrets, Calvin busies himself with a smug self-importance. To Calvin, Alton is the saviour capable of divine revelations and ultimate redemption: a power and belief that Calvin is reluctant to let go so easily.
With the FBI, curious NSA analyst and burdened Ranch disciple, Doak (Bill Camp), vested in the capture of Alton there’s a magnet like allure to his mystery that outweighs any misgivings about his guardians. The trust that Alton places in Roy dispels any notion that he has been kidnapped yet it’s difficult to determine who’s doing the right thing, and to what end? Kirsten Dunst’s performance as Alton’s mother is full of maternal significance that adds weight to Alton’s innocence.
Hopping their way around the southern states in a beat up getaway car there are times when Nichols’ ambitious cosmic sci-fi thriller could veer off into a rural cul-de-sac and lose it’s way in a generic genre flick. But the celestial E.T. reference points that Nichols draws upon are cast against a grounded reality, shot beautifully in natural light and set to an epic score. Which makes for a stunning juxtaposition, the likes of which we rarely see in today’s cinema.
There’s a stunning night shot near the beginning of the film that feels very Cold in July yet we never truly believe we’re in a hokey pokey southern neo-noir. There’s something bigger at play and it all revolves around Alton.
It’s in the briefest of heart stopping moments that we glimpse the power of Alton’s piercing blue eyes. Moments that require no explanaton beyond ‘this is something he does’ gradually make way for more powerful, worrying displays of supernatural ability as Alton weakens, exposed to nothing but darkness for his whole life.
Which is where things have the potential to get spoilery on my part so I’ll refrain from any closing detail. But I can safely say that this tremendous closing act challenges, bewilders, and rewards those attentive viewers with a Must-see showstopper that harks back to the Spielberg days with a firm grip on reality.