Saturday, November 19, 2016

Film Review: Midnight Special (2016)

Copyright: Warner Bros. Pictures
Jeff Nichols is an authentic voice in the American movie industry. His relatively small body of work includes brilliant films like Mud and Take Shelter which offers a colorful (even though rarely cheerful) setting where he is free to explore the thing that really fascinates him: family. In his latest film Midnight Special, the same process is present, but this time, the setting is way beyond anything he created before.

On some levels, the story about a boy who is clandestinely escorted by his father and his friend who believe he possesses a supernatural power plays out as a vintage adventure film. Close Encounter of the Third Kind is a logical choice for a connection, but Midnight Special works on an entirely different tune. While the 1970’s Sci-Fi classic provided a sense of wonder and amazement, the same is practically non-existent here. 

Instead, in its place feelings like abandonment and desperation take root. The film doesn’t especially try to capitalize on them but adds them as passengers on the journey taken by the characters. This makes the film a very somber and ghostly experience, something that cuts deep and offbeat in the tech thriller and chase segments which showcase what the government is trying to do to find and stop the main characters. I certain that there was a predefined dynamic how this should have played out, but the movie almost certainly doesn’t hit that mark, whatever it might have been.

The same goes for the cult moment the film presents, especially in its beginning. The boy is seen as a prophet by a group of people who function as a cult, while his parents are also members – it’s unclear if the cult grew around the boy, even though the film addresses this at one point.

It is possible that the same factor also threw off Michael Shannon, who plays the boy’s father. Shannon, an otherwise terrific actor, performs here as if he is playing a Biblical character – determined to a level of madness, full of rage and desperation. While in theory, this is in line with the rest of the plot, in practice looks weird and distracting, leaving Shannon as the ultimate sports dad who is trying to keep it cool even though he is boiling on the inside.

Midnight Special is a compact mystery science fiction, but also the weakest film made by Nichols to date. There is some family themes in it, but nothing that the director really could have used in his own distinctive style.