As soon as I watched the trailer for this film it instantly became my most anticipated feature of the year. That’s quite an achievement with 2016 being the year of a new Star Wars, Star Trek and the usual heavy-hitters from Marvel and DC, along with another stop-motion masterpiece (I hope!) from Laika Studios. 10 Cloverfield Lane was a taught thriller with sci-fi elements that came out of no where to be an instant hit and Midnight Special looked like it would follow suit. When leaving the cinema I heard one eloquent chap give a profound three-word review of “that was s@#*” as he walked past. I certainly didn’t share his feelings on it but I did leave the cinema disappointed…
It’s about a father called Roy (Michael Shannon) who has escaped a religious cult with his son, Alton (Jaeden Lieberher), who has unearthly powers. The cult see him as a divine figure and the FBI see him as a threat to national security, so with both on their tail Roy and his friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton) set off with Alton to the location of one of his son’s visions with the aim to get there for a predicted date where a celestial event will take place.
This film is achingly close to being a sci-fi classic. So first, the good stuff. Director Jeff Nichols keeps the audience on the edge of their seats by throwing you straight into the deep end of the story and letting us figure out what is going on as the film unfolds. There are no shoe-horned Basil Expositions here! It is written superbly and feeds us enough to allow us to work out what is happening whilst also keeping enough mystery to keep us gripped. The visuals and soundtrack are mesmerising and compliment each other masterfully to give you a real 80s sci-fi feel. The pacing can be a little leaden at times but I didn’t look at my watch once so it still held my attention. Shannon and Edgerton put in solid and believable performances, as does Adam Driver despite his fleeting appearance. The limelight is shamelessly stolen though by Lieberher, who puts in such a mature and convincing performance as Alton that you genuinely believe he is not of this world, and when his powers do manifest the switch in the film’s tone from family drama to indie sci-fi doesn’t jar in the slightest.
Unfortunately, it’s not all sunshine and lollipops. Kirsten Dunst plays Alton’s mother, Sarah, and the part is woefully underdeveloped. Dunst does wonders with the little she is given but her character feels like an afterthought in a very bloke-heavy screenplay. The killer blow for me though is the film’s ending (no spoilers ahead, promise). Now, this will depend entirely on the person watching, but you’ll either run with it, go with the flow and love its resolution or it will stop you in your tracks, leave you cold and wondering what the hell happened. For me it was the latter, and I was ever so disappointed. I was watching an intelligent, low-budget, beautifully crafted sci-fi flick that suddenly turned into a syrupy family film that must have needed inspiration on how to finish and got an idea from the cuttings on the floor of Disney studios! It just completely knocked me off my feet in a bad way and took me straight out of the film, and after investing so much time and emotion into it the taste of disappointment was made even more bitter. It’s like the director upped and left after completing 90% of it and the studio hired Spielberg to finish it! That’s not an insult to Spielberg as I’m a huge fan of his work, but his endings belong to his films and do not deviate from the theme he builds, and Midnight Special has an ending that lacks the edge and verve of the film that played out before it. It’s such a shame.
However, I didn’t hate this film and there is a lot to like about it. I’m sure it will find a loving spot on many Blu-Ray shelves across the film-loving community…
…not mine though.