Midnight Special (2016)

midnite1.jpg2016.61: Midnight Special (Amazon VOD)

Like Super 8 a few years back, Midnight Special displays its inspirations clearly- it’s very much kin to Steven Spielberg’s seminal CE3K and ET, and also John Carpenter’s Starman. Indeed, while it often looks like a Spielberg film it also feels like a Carpenter film because of an electronic score by David Wingo that sounds very much from a Carpenter film of that period. Midnight Special just overflows with this sense of being an artifact from circa 1977-1982, the danger naturally being this can bring to mind better movies. I guess it shares common ground with so many other cinema-referential films of late, such as Super 8 – films harking back to the films that influenced current film-makers. A generational thing then, and further sign I’m getting old when so much of the films I grew up with winds up in ‘new’ films, even the ones that aren’t reboots?

That being said, Midnight Special is, on a whole, quite superior to stuff like Super 8. For one thing it doesn’t feel so reverential, and does try to do something new even though it eventually falters. The first half of the film is its strongest, with the mystery holding the most attention; two adults are on the run having kidnapped a young boy, and they are being chased by both Government forces and agents of a strange religious cult. Having pretty much been dropped into the middle of a chase movie with X-Files undertones, its fun trying to unravel the backgrounds of the characters and what is really going on and why. Inevitably the film can’t really maintain the mystery and its reveals aren’t as imaginative or original as one would hope. That said, it’s a great thriller for most of its running time even if the conclusion leaves us asking more questions than is perhaps healthy for what I believe is a standalone picture.

The cast is pretty great, except, unfortunately, for Kirsten Dunst. She plays the childs mother, Sarah, and there really isn’t any conviction in her portrayal of motherhood, or indeed any chemistry between her and the child’s father, Roy (Michael Shannon)- it is a huge vacuum that the film doesn’t really recover from. I don’t know if it’s simply the script at fault (in Dunst’s defence, it is a fairly underwritten part) or miscasting, but somethings wrong and the film suffers for it, losing the emotional core that, say, ET had. Other than that, there is plenty to recommend in this film- a fairly low budget affair (something like just $20 million) it’s certainly more imaginative and entertaining than most of this summers blockbuster releases.


4 thoughts on “Midnight Special (2016)

  1. Another one I’ve heard lots of good things about (though avoided reading most full reviews in case of spoilers)! This one I actually have already rented though, so I’ll certainly get to it… sometime in the next 3 weeks.

    Seems to me that many films (and TV shows) with great initial mysteries end up having quite underwhelming answers/reveals in the end. I guess it’s easier to come up with an original, intriguing setup than a surprising truth behind that.

    1. Very true, and something nearly every John Carpenter film suffered from too, but I loved them all anyway. I guess if the journey is good enough you forgive a bad destination.

  2. Matthew McKinnon

    I was pretty disappointed with this, I have to admit. I was immediately sold by the trailers, so perhaps my expectations were too high.

    My main feeling is that it suffered from its budget. In the Olden Days, there weren’t so many lower-budget effects options available, so if you wanted FX in a movie, they were of a certain standard. A lot of the FX here looked a lot like AfterEffects or similarly inexpensive creations. I think if this had had better effects, it would have felt a lot stronger overall.

    I had no problem with Dunst: she wasn’t a good mother (she gave up her son to a cult, and doesn’t really know him), so if you felt a lack of connection that would explain it.

    With you watching so many retro movies lately, I have to ask: are you watching Stranger Things? If so , please write up your opinions. Now there’s a show with a TERRIBLE performance from an actress playing a mother.

    1. I hadn’t seen any trailers so maybe my expectations were more moderate. That said, the ending is fairly weak and strangely non-committal. It left me with the feeling the film-makers were leaving their options open for a sequel, which felt rather like a betrayal of the previous two hours.

      You are probably right about the budget- just a bit under what it needed to really fulfill its potential. Frustrating when you think how overblown insipid stuff like Star Trek Beyond is. I’d still sooner see more ‘almost but not quite’ films like this than so many idiotic spectacles that pass for modern blockbusters though. But then again, the blockbusters are deliberately idiotic to make them easier to market/sell abroad, so I can understand the economics/strategy of studio thinking, and its obvious its not changing anytime soon.

      Nope, not watching Stranger Things yet. Trying to avoid Netflix stuff (I haven’t seen any Daredevil yet, or House of Cards) if only to maintain some kind of manageable limit on my ‘things to watch’ list.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s