Monday, 11 April 2016

Review: Midnight Special

Midnight Special (SPOILERY)
Cert: 12A / 112 mins / Dir. Jeff Nichols / Trailer

So, I sat in Screen 1 tonight wondering '...what are the actual guidelines on advertising alcohol in the UK?'. It's not unusual to see cinema ads for Smirnoff or Russian Standard, but only really in front of 15-rated movies and above. And obviously the statistical majority of the audience will be above 18 even for a 15 film anyway, so it's not like you're telling kids to buy the stuff. I only ask because the post-FACT/pre-BBFC ad tonight was for San Miguel, and as it's followed directly by the 12A Certification card it seems like an odd call. I don't really want to mention it officially as I've already got the projection-operator at my local in trouble once this week (no, really). Then again, Midnight Special isn't exactly aimed at youngsters, that's just the rating it has. And obviously there were a slew of booze-ads running in front of the 12A Spectre. Although above all else, maybe it got the go-ahead because it's 'the Story of San Miguel' advert, a whole minute of badly dubbed, patronising bullshit which is so excruciating that it should put even hardened alcoholics off touching the stuff. I guess we'll never know...

Which is a feeling that also accompanied me as I left the cinema two hours later. Jeff Nichols' Midnight Special is a movie that enjoys teasing the audience into asking questions, and enjoys witholding the answers even more. And you get the impression that it's not playful world-building, but that the answers just don't exist. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The film opens in a Texas*1 motel room, with Roy (Michael Shannon(2) and Lucas (Joel Edgerton) having apparently abducted the young Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) from a religious cult living on a nearby ranch; a boy with inexplicable abilities and powers*3. Convinced that Alton is their saviour, the cult are anxious to see him returned, but Roy is determined to reach Sarah (Kirsten Dunst), Alton's mother. A trail of destruction follows them across state lines as the FBI and NSA (Adam Driver as Sevier) become involved, in a bid to figure out if the boy is an alien, a god or a weapon*4

It's a strong start for a compelling movie. The problem is that the film seems to lose its way the further it goes down the road. Or rather, I began to lose faith in the film the more it tried to wiggle out of giving any firm explanations. I suspect the 'genre-defying' label that's being bandied about is a polite way of saying that Mighnight Special is never quite sure what it wants to be (even though it's clearly Sci-Fi), so can't settle on a narrative-format as a result. The closest compare/contrast I can draw would be Looper, a film which carefully places down unconnected jigsaw pieces, until sharply pulling back in the third-act to reveal the completed picture. A film which demands a second-viewing to appreciate the craft which has put it together. Unfortunately, I don't think I'd get any more from watching Midnight Special again. I wanted to love the film, but could only like and be intrigued by it.

You see for all my moaning, this is a very watchable flick. It's just nowhere near as clever or revelatory as it'd like to be. More a study of film-making than storytelling, it feels a little like an extended episode of The Twilight Zone, missing the closing narration of "yeah, that was a bit weird, wasn't it? No, there's no reason...". I enjoyed Midnight Special, but it left me more frustrated than satisfied. And not in a good way.

But you'll probably love it, and I'll love that you love it because then you can tell me what it was that I missed...

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Looper, Close Encounters and, to a lesser degree, From Dusk Till Dawn.

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
Probably best as there are stretches of this movie which are so (visually) dark that you don't stand a chance of making out what's going on if you watch it in your living room.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
Yeah, probably. It's just, y'know. Me.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Difficult to say as it's a real mixed bag on the performance-front.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Didn't hear one.

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: And it's a straight-A triple whammy! Midnight Special's Special Effects Coordinator John McLeod also worked as a stage-technician on Return of the Jedi for the Original Trilogy; the film stars Joel 'Owen Lars' Edgerton from the Prequel Trilogy and Adam 'Kylo Ren' Driver from the Sequel Trilogy. All of that doesn't happen too often...

And if I HAD to put a number on it…
Just, y'know… frustratingly noncommittal

*1 And you know we're in Texas because every fifth line of the script has someone saying "y'all". No, really.

*2 Michael Shannon, reinforcing the rule that there's something distinctly unsettling about any man that does up the top button of his shirt when he's not wearing a tie. How the fuck am I suppose to sympathise with that kind of freakery??

*3 Inexplicable in this case meaning that it's not really explained. "Aliens did it". Yep, that's all you're going to get. Transparent, light-up aliens living in a parallel dimension that (it's inferred) have relative super-powers but still build their cities in swampland and out of concrete. Okay, then?

*4 Or, if you like, General Zod and Uncle Owen have to take E.T. to Mary Jane Watson before Kylo Ren catches them.

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

1 comment:

  1. Yes! I bloody hate the San Miguel advert simply because it's so badly dubbed it's infuriating.

    The film is well made for sure, but, similar to you, I did find the film lost its way and just got a little bit slow as it approached the final act. The final act was pretty stunning though, my favorite part.