It’s very rare these days we get a film that’s so original and mysterious, we’ll be thinking about it for days. “Midnight Special” is that kind of film!
We follow Roy (Michael Shannon), who’s rescued his son Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) from a dangerous cult led by Calvin Meyer (Sam Shepard). With the help of his ex-wife Sarah (Kirsten Dunst) and childhood friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton), Roy will do anything to make sure Alton reaches a specific destination.
Complications arise when Alton demonstrates great, majestic powers that can alter the world, attracting not only the cult’s attention, but the government’s, as well.
“Midnight Special” is writer/director Jeff Nichols’s fourth film. He’s also brought us great indie gems such as the psychological horror film “Take Shelter”, and the coming-of-age crime drama “Mud”. “Midnight Special” is nearly as great as those two, combining a thrilling sci-fi tale with an emotional family character study.
Roy, Alton, Lucas, and Sarah are a family on the road. Roy cares for Alton deeply and would die to protect him, Sarah’s given a second chance to act as Alton’s mother and doesn’t take it for granted, and Lucas takes on the role of the cool uncle.
The dynamic between the trio is moving with Roy and Sarah hesitant to give up Alton, despite knowing his extraordinary fate. Lucas, on the other hand, knows from the start that taking Alton to his destination is the right, and acts as his loyal bodyguard.
The cast’s performances are often quiet, but expressive. Shannon and Edgerton in particular give the best performances and are empathetic characters, expressing emotions of fear, wonder, and guilt. Dunst is just as good, while newcomer Lieberher delivers a wonderful performance. I normally don’t like kid actors, but he knocks it out of the park .
The mysteries of “Midnight Special” demand time to analyze and interpret after first viewing. We get some beautiful visuals and suspenseful sequences that emphasize Alton’s true powers, but that’s all we need. There’s no exposition tool characters here to tell us everything like in “Inception” or “The Matrix”!
The only thing that’s not well-developed is the cult. We get to know Calvin in the first ten minutes, but then he disappears for the rest of the movie. We don’t know the cult’s motives or why Roy left, and that can be frustrating since they are our antagonists.
I can forgive that flaw because the point of the movie is the relationship between Roy and Alton. Once Alton tells Roy he doesn’t have to worry about him and Roy replies with, “I like worrying about you,” we understand that this is a father-and-son movie.
Nichols wrote this movie as both a tribute to John Carpenter and his newborn child, thus “Midnight Special” feels personal without being too self-indulgent. When was the last time you saw a movie execute that?