One of the more mainstream offering’s in this years NZIFF is Jeff Nicols’ Midnight Special. It’s a throwback Sci-Fi film in the vein of Close Encounters of the Third Kind or Starman. Speaking of which, the finger prints of John Carpenters’ 1984 cult classic, Starman (and for those that aren’t familiar with Starman, FOR SHAME!), are all over it! In fact, one of the soldiers prominently bares the name tag “Carpenter”. I double dare you to tell me that wasn’t intentional! Also like Carpenter, Jeff Nicols (who wrote and directed) has achieved the seemingly impossible and created a compelling and mostly original Sci-Fi film that isn’t a space opera, a sequel or reboot…which get’s a huge tick in the plus column.
Lets get something out of the way right now. I really liked Midnight Special. The premise is simple enough; Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) is a very sought after young man who has a severe aversion to daylight and some pretty special abilities. His father Roy (Michael Shannon, who’s a solid performer when not constantly shouting) has taken Alton out of an isolated religious commune with the assistance of Lucas (Joel Edgerton) and they’re all off, cross country, to see Sarah (Kirsten Dunst, who is almost unrecognizable in the matriarchal role). The Feds are headed up by Sevier (Adam Driver) and the now prophet-less Religious commune are all out to lay hands back on Alton at any cost. The film keeps the oft understated action (metaphysical and physical) on a constant simmer with a deliberate pot boiler pace that kept me on the edge of my seat. Midnight Special wisely answers less questions than it asks, which is sadly rare theses days. So much so I immediately committed myself to re-watching this first chance I got in an effort to see if more answers were to be found in thrown away dialogue.
Midnight Special dispenses with the ‘fish out of water’ elements that served Starman’s romance driven narrative and in its place is a road trip/chase mystery-thriller with heavy lashings of the supernatural. Coupling this with tightly shot (if a little claustrophobic) cinematography from Adam Stone and a sparse and haunting score which is heavy on the synthesizer (which again lends to Starman) by David Wingo, rounding out what is sure to be an instant classic.
Anyone who has seen and liked an early 80’s Spielberg film (or Starman, obviously) should find much to like about Midnight Special and once again, just to hammer it home, I liked Midnight Special very much… 5 out 5 stars!… Would watch again… AND Starman… A lot. Maybe I should re-watch that too. So should you. It’s Great.
Starring: Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Jaeden Lieberher and Adam Driver.
Directed by Jeff Nicols.
Screening at the NZ International Film Festival. 111 minutes.