Midnight Special reinvigorates the sci-fi genre thanks to a kinetic filmmaker, some of Hollywood’s most alluring actors, and a unique premise.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Roy (Michael Shannon) flees a peculiar religious cult in rural Texas, wholly convinced his eight-year-old son Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) possesses extra-terrestrial abilities. Aided by state trooper/Roy’s childhood friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton) and Alton’s mother Sarah (Kirsten Dunst), they drive across America’s southern states, pursued by FBI personnel, NSA analyst Paul (Adam Driver), and the cult.
Midnight Special subtly intertwines everything dear to sci-fi with the dark, dangerous world we reside in. Writer/director Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter, Mud) is a burgeoning auteur, continuing his run of thought-provoking drama-thrillers. Although his most divisive feature so far, this sci-fi-adventure pays homage to Steven Spielberg more subtly than J.J. Abrams (Super 8). Similarly to ET: The Extra Terrestrial and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Nichols captures the contrast between outlandish scenarios and suburban environments.
Efficiently handling road-trip and sci-fi convention, Midnight Special dares to discuss religion and freedom in the 21st Century. Like its lead characters, the movie’s settings and messages provide many interesting ideas and points of view. Despite the detailed commentary on belief, the third act provides unclear, questionable answers.
Midnight Special’s positives significantly outweigh its occasional hiccups. Cinematographer Adam Stone captures the rich, earthy aesthetic of town centres, swamplands and suburbia. Handling the slow-burn moments and major set-pieces with aplomb, multiple scenic vistas are simply awe-inspiring. Harking back to John Carpenter’s style, David Wingo’s synth-heavy, rumbling score solidifies its confronting atmosphere.
Nichols’ frequent collaborator Shannon is one of Hollywood’s most revered character-actors, providing a haunting performance with few expressions. Edgerton, set for Nichols’ next feature, provides a multi-layered turn with little dialogue. Dunst, coming off a rousing performance in Fargo – Season 2, and Lieberher provide charm in an otherwise gritty, contemplative experience.
Midnight Special is a key piece of the sci-fi puzzle, taking Nichols’ key influences and producing an arresting, keep-you-guessing ride.
Midnight Special is available in Australian cinemas from April 21
Image courtesy of Roadshow Films