MIDNIGHT SPECIAL (2016)
Written / Directed by: Jeff Nichols
Starring: Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver, Jaeden Lieberher
UK Certificate: 12A
UK Release Date : 8th April 2016
111 minutes / Rated: 12A / Tri-State Pictures, Warner Bros.
AEISD Contributor Jon ‘Goatboy’ Clarke landed on his feet last week and managed to bag himself a seat to one of the most eagerly-anticipated indie sci-fi flicks of the year: let’s see if he felt if it was small yet perfectly formed…
If you’ve seen the trailer (and it’s right there at the top of this review, you really have no excuse), you’ve probably established the basic premise of the film is a man on the run with his son who appears to possess special powers of some description. This is also the only information that Nichols provides you with at the outset of the movie, letting the story unfold at an almost perfect pace throughout the film, holding your interest by revealing little pieces of a puzzle throughout.
Roy (Michael Shannon) turns out to be the boy’s father and he is on the run with his son Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) having absconded from a religious cult simply referred to as “The Farm” which held a somewhat creepy belief in Alton’s mysterious powers.
You are presented with two separate yet intertwining stories. The main focus is compelling footage of Alton and his Father’s time on the road, ably assisted by Roy’s friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton) intertwined with news footage regarding the child’s abduction. Secondly, you watch the unfolding story of the cult itself and the authorities interest in the young boy, this has a lighter tone altogether perpetuated by Adam Driver portraying a nervous NSA analyst who believes he has some insight into the boy’s powers but also displays empathy unlike his fellow law enforcement officials.
The movie is an absolute joy to watch, engaging you throughout with some absolutely stellar performances – Shannon and Driver in particular are flawless, with the young Jaeden Lieberher ably complimenting them. These performances are made all the more impressive by the sparse dialogue throughout, much emotion being conveyed with looks and gestures. The less is more approach to visual effects and gimmicks only serves to heighten the mystery and ultimately means that when they do appear on the screen they work exceptionally well.
A fine example of this is a set piece that visualizes a government satellite falling from the night sky like an intense meteor shower. The pace and visual style of the film consistently reminded me of great ’80s sci-fi (CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND and STARMAN in particular – which I have since discovered was indeed cited by Nichols himself as an influence). The soundtrack was constructed of minimal synths, adding to moments of tension and reminiscent of early John Carpenter.
Firmly embedding itself as a tribute to the science fiction genre as it once was, Nichols movie still felt relevant by touching on religion, belief, paranoia and, most overwhelmingly, a parent’s singular, unrelenting love for their child. Cleverly crafted and beautifully presented, I have a feeling that, for me at least, I may have already seen one of the best films of the year.