The cryptic title gives nothing away, Midnight Special is a moody, slow, unique little science fiction chase film.
A father is on the run from the Government and a fanatical group who are after his young son who apparently has supernatural gifts. While the nature of his son’s abilities are an ever unfolding mystery with destructive capacities, Roy Tomlin and his one ally, state trooper Lucas, must avoid prying eyes at all times.
Michael Shannon (Man of Steel) and Joel Edgerton (The Gift) play Roy and Lucas who are on the run, sticking to travelling at night due to the special circumstances of Roy’s son Alton, who they have just liberated from a ranch-turn-religious group who had been interpreting his powers as a second coming. The Government is also hunting them down, Adam Driver (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) is an investigator who is trying to understand exactly what is happening.
Directed by Jeff Nichols, the film is a moody and shadowy experience drenched in mystery. The initial ambiguity of Roy’s intentions, the News broadcasts stating he had abducted the boy, is the one mystery swiftly dissolved, the film preferring to maintain total opacity to what Alton may or may not be… or what his abilities are, or how he got them. Unlike a lot of films these days, Midnight Special does not over-encumber itself with flashbacks or expositionary dialogue to explain everything… in fact it virtually explains nothing.
It feels like a low budget sci-fi thriller, with a simple premise of a chase across the south of America. This might alienate audiences expecting a more traditional or fast paced experience. Shannon and Edgerton are powerhouses of acting, heck even Kirstin Dunst is in this movie and she gives a solid performance, and this elevates it above the more run-of-the-mill sci-fi.
For me, maybe a little more explanation wouldn’t have hurt. The film really runs with the mystery, even Adam Driver’s character who, like the audience, is looking in on these events and yet doesn’t give much in the way of explanatory dialogue. He too ends up just whispering riddles.
Even the ranch, who early on is shown as treacherous and then later villainous, yet the reasoning isn’t greatly established. We don’t see Alton as he was in the ranch, we simply hang on the words of Shannon, Dunst and Edgerton.
Heck, we don’t even know how Roy and Lucas know each other!
At the end of the day it is up to the audience to engage with the story and interpret it.
I enjoyed it. It was immersive and atmospheric and well made. As a science fiction fan I found myself collecting all the little pieces of information the script would drop and the screenplay would show, and try to figure it out. I was always surprised and alarmed when things escalated and it is nice to watch a film that doesn’t lock its story down and promotes the audience to think.
It isn’t as marketable as 10 Cloverfield Lane, or as intellectual as Ex Machina, and while my review reads more like a warning or advice, if you enjoy science fiction on the scale of an X-Files episode, you will enjoy this.
Additional Marshmallows: It is funny having Michael Shannon speaking to someone in this film who’s reading a Superman comic.