Writer-director Jeff Nichols (TAKE SHELTER, MUD) is the purveyor of deeply felt, beautifully acted low budget independent films. He returns to our screens with MIDNIGHT SPECIAL, a similarly lo-fi sci-fi flick. The movie starts off strong - perhaps the strongest opening of a movie I've seen this year. It's dark, a weird kid wearing swimming goggles in abducted by two men and hidden in the back of an old battered car. The TV news flashes images of the kidnapper. We realise its a father (Michael Shannon) and his son (Jaeden Lieberher), who's reading superhero comics by torchlight. But the other guy (Joel Edgerton) is freaking us out. He asks the dad to reach into the glove compartment. Is it for a gun? No, night vision goggles. He's going to drive at high speed through the night to get this kid to wherever he needs to be. Meanwhile, a local bunch of religious nutters led by Sam Shepard are being interrogated by the Feds and NSA analyst Kylo Ren. The cult think he's going to lead them to paradise when the apocalypse comes in three days time. The army thinks he can be weaponised. But we still don't know what he is.
Sadly, the movie doesn't live up to its initial powerful opening. It descends into a road-trip/chase with the NSA, cult all on the tail of the kid, the two men and then his mum (Kirsten Dunst.) The movie holds onto its big reveal but when it comes it seems lifted out of a recent unsuccessful sci-fi film that I won't name for fear of spoilers. Until that moment arrives there's a good fifteen minutes of film that could be lost and once it reaches that finale the movie continues for around five minutes of coda and then sort of fizzles out. You get to the end and think, well what does that all mean? Is this just an elaborate parable of modern over-indulged parenting? Or is this just a twenty five minute episode of the Twilight Zone racked into a feature film? I was beyond caring.
MIDNIGHT SPECIAL is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 112 minutes. The movie played Berlin and SXSW 2016 to great acclaim and opened earlier this year in Germany, France, Brazil, the USA, Canada and Vietnam. It opens this weekend in the UK and Ireland. It opens on April 21st in the Philippines, Greece and Singapore and on May 12th in the Netherlands.
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