As another Box Office silly season packed with superheroes and belligerent extra-terrestrials careers towards us, find time, if you can, for a science-fiction film with a bit more brain than brawn. Jeff Nichols follows up his critically acclaimed lo-fi hits Take Shelter (also starring Shannon) and Mud with a well-crafted, genuinely-intelligent and occasionally awe-inspiring experience which says rather more about the human condition than any number of men in colourful costumes bashing seven bells out of one another – no matter how much they cuss and swear.
Roy (Shannon), his eight year-old son Alton (Leiberher), along with Roy’s old friend and state trooper Lucas (Edgerton) are on the run from both a religious cult and the FBI, each of whom have their own very particular designs on Alton. The boy has extraordinary abilities and has prophesied an imminent cataclysmic event. The trio are fleeing, road-trip style, across the country and eventually are reunited with the boy’s mother, Sarah (Dunst), a former now ex-communicated cult member who hasn’t seen her son in two years. As the day of the ‘event’ approaches, Alton realises the truth about who he is – but both the cult and the FBI are closing in and time is running out...
Midnight Special wears its indie credentials proudly on its sleeve. This is a film where story and character come first; it’s a measured, unhurried story, refreshingly unshowy and yet not afraid to broaden its visual horizons and dazzle when it needs to. At one point, Alton uses his powers to pull a spy satellite out of the sky and the resulting debris tumbles to Earth like a meteorite storm, hitting the ground and exploding and destroying a petrol station where the group have briefly stopped to refuel. The moments when dazzling blue light explodes from the screaming boy’s eyes are uncomfortable but undeniably spectacular and the film’s finale – we won’t spoil it here – is astonishing in its quiet simplicity and yet also in its scope and grandeur. It’s a cinematic moment which will literally leave you breathless at its understated stately beauty, a vista of eerie unearthliness more compelling and convincing than any number of more generously-budgeted mainstream studio genre movies.
Jeff Nichols’ unfussy, occasionally wry script is perfectly complemented by considered performances by his cast from the solid Shannon, the ever-impressive Edgerton and even Kirsten Dunst, now thankfully putting in some decent legwork in distancing herself from her whiny, needy portrayal of MJ in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy. Midnight Special is a story about humanity and human beings and their place in the greater scheme of things, a proper science-fiction film about ideas and concepts and the effect extraordinary events can have on ordinary people. Destined to become a cult classic in the short term, time will ultimately recognise Midnight Special as a new modern landmark in a genre which has become saturated by spectacle and all-too often devalued as cheap popcorn entertainment for undemanding kids and teens. Midnight Special really is very special indeed.
MIDNIGHT SPECIAL / CERT: 12A / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: JEFF NICHOLS / STARRING: MICHAEL SHANNON, JOEL EDGERTON, KIRSTEN DUNST, JAEDEN LIEBERHER / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW