Following the critical acclaim of his previous film Mud, director Jeff Nichols returns with an unexpected science-fiction thriller that borrows heavily from a multitude of influences while presenting a unique and compelling story that grips the viewer from the outset.
The film follows a father and son on the run from both the government and the fanatical religious cult from which they escaped. The boy possesses a supernatural power that both parties will stop at nothing to have, and with time running out before an unexplained event occurs, they make a desperate bid to reach a pre-determined location with the help of an old friend and the boy’s estranged mother.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Firestarter and Knowing are obvious influences on the film, with subtle cues taken from Super 8, Unbreakable and even D.A.R.Y.L. (you all remember that one, yeah?). While each of these titles leave an imprint on Midnight Special, the film successfully sets itself apart and presents a gritty, confronting and visually stunning thriller full of unexpected curves and vigorous detail.
Nichols reprises the stark, desolate style of cinematography he previously applied to his films Mud and Take Shelter, and the colours are graded to lend the film a cold, washed-out aesthetic. A substantial amount of the film takes place under a blanket of darkness, leaving it difficult to distinguish what’s happening on screen during a number of moments. Of course, this is an intentional means to heighten the impact of the sound design, giving the narrative an eerie and unsettling texture.
Michael Shannon’s intensity as the desperate father, who will stop at nothing to evade the authorities, makes for an unnerving movie-going experience, and he is supported by equally fervent performances from Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver and Sam Shepard. The casting is smart and while none of the aforementioned names are necessarily A-list draw-cards, their calibre of talent is weighty and will be recognisable to most discernible movie-goers. Jaeden Lieberher, who previously gave Bill Murray a run for his money in St. Vincent, plays the mysteriously gifted child. This kid can act and he holds his own amongst the intimidating weight of talent surrounding him. With a strong script and a deliberately ambiguous storyline, each cast member commits to their characters with conviction and collectively deliver one of the year’s most gripping films.
Midnight Special remains understated despite all of its ambitions. It is consistently humble, presenting its occasionally elaborate concepts in restrained and dignified fashion. If you were affected by 10 Cloverfield Lane, this year’s other unexpected chiller, this ought to have a similar impact on you. It is both distressing and exhilarating, and is sure to get audiences talking.
THE REEL SCORE: 8/10