MIDNIGHT SPECIAL (3/18/2016)
Director: Jeff Nichols
Cast: Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst
My Rating: 10/10
PLOT: Two men go on the run with a child in tow, pursued by federal agents and by members of a cult who believe the child has special powers.
The general concept of “mystery” in a film is a subtle art. Not enough mystery, and people will say they’ve seen it all before. Too much mystery, and people will wonder why they’ve spent good money to be confused for two hours. I could list a number of examples in both columns, and I’ll bet anyone reading this could do the same.
Every now and then, though, a movie comes along that shows everyone else how it’s done. It manages to plunge the viewer headlong into the story with little to no exposition, provides just enough clues to keep things intriguing without giving the game away, and supplies a climax that is not just satisfying, but revelatory. “Prometheus” is one of those movies. So is “Freaks” (2018).
And so is “Midnight Special”, from director and screenwriter Jeff Nichols (“Take Shelter”, “Mud”).
This movie grabs you right from the opening minutes. Two men appear to be holed up in a hotel room with a young boy wearing blue swim goggles. Cardboard and duct tape cover the windows. A news broadcast on the TV reports on the kidnapping of a young boy. However, the boy does not appear to be distressed in any way. One of the men may or may not be his father. He goes willingly when they vacate the room and hit the road.
In another part of the country, a pastor watches the same newscast with concern. He later leads a church service, but the scripture reading consists of non-sequiturs and random numbers. The FBI interrupts the service and hauls each and every church member in for questioning about the missing boy.
What the deuce is going on here? How is this church connected to the boy? Where are the two men taking the boy? What’s with the blue goggles? What is so important about this boy that the two men with him would be willing to kill for him?
These are all very good questions. Whenever the movie takes the time to answer one of the questions, two more spring up in its place. And I may as well tell you now: not every question will get an answer. But instead of feeling frustrated, I just got more and more involved in the film. I felt like I was an active participant in figuring out the story, along with the characters. There’s nothing quite like feeling INVOLVED in a movie, rather than simply WATCHING a movie.
When the revelations arrive about where the men are headed with the boy, why they’re headed there, and why the FBI is interested, I’m not gonna lie, I was gobsmacked. In retrospect, I suppose I should have seen some of the plot points coming a mile away. But that’s the beauty of the screenplay and the direction. I was simply not interested in trying to second guess what surprises were in store. As a result, when the surprises arrived, I was constantly in a state of jaw-dropping amazement.
I would also like to point out the great restraint used by the filmmakers when it came to the few scenes that required CGI enhancement. There are a hundred ways these scenes could have gone wrong, resulting in a shot that completely takes you out of the movie. They avoided all those pitfalls and instead created scenes of startling beauty, even when things seem to be going wrong…or when they at last go right.
As you can tell, I’ve been deliberately vague about the plot. This is a movie that deserves to be seen with as clean a slate as possible. It didn’t exactly make a dent in the pop-culture zeitgeist, so it’s not likely you’ll see any spoilers on the internet without Googling the movie, but why would you want to do that? Keep an open mind, don’t ask me how it ends, and find a way to see this movie. You won’t be disappointed.