Being a movie lover, I make an effort to see both mass-market, big-budget films and smaller, independent movies. I, personally, would love to be able to see more low-budget independent films in the theater. But it’s tough. My local movie theater almost never gets them, so I’m usually required to drive an hour or more in order to see movies like Midnight Special. Quite frankly, it’s a minor miracle that I’m able to see as many as I do. Today, I drove nearly an hour-and-a-half to catch a double-feature of this one and my next entry.
Midnight Special has a bit of buzz going for it. With superb word of mouth and a well-respected cast, this low-budget sci-fi film is being mentioned in the same breath as Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I’ve been wanting to see it for a little while, now, and have finally managed to get the opportunity.
During the first half of the film, I thought I was going to be walking out and proclaiming it as my favorite of the year, so far. It didn’t quite end up hitting that level, by the end, but it’s still a thoroughly enjoyable ride that was worth going out of my way to see.
The less the viewer knows before seeing Midnight Special, the better. So, I’ll keep my thoughts vague. The film has a way of presenting itself which is in direct opposition to some other films that I’ve seen recently. Those films relied on the tell-don’t-show method and that is counterproductive to the art of filmmaking. Thankfully, Midnight Special shows rather than tells.
The film picks up in the middle of the story and fills the audience in as it goes. Now, admittedly, we are told rather than shown some of the past events. But anything that occurs during the timeframe of the film is presented directly to us, whereas any past events or character points we need to be aware of are delivered in a natural, organic way. There are no scenes filled with forced, exposition-laden dialogue like it’s a DC TV show. These characters are written with respect and the audience is treated in the same way. (Speaking of DC, the boy in the film earns points with me for reading comics featuring Superman and Starfire – two of my favorite DC characters. If someone else tells me their favorite comic character is Batman, I might just yawn in their face.)
Dropping the viewer into the middle of the story allows for the development of a mysterious element that wouldn’t have been possible if a more traditional structure had been employed. This adds a lot to the film, replacing what might be lost in some casual audience member’s eyes due to the low budget.
As each reveal takes place and each twist unfolds, the tension rises, forcing the viewer to wonder what each character’s role really is and what everyone’s intentions are.
The steam runs out in the third act, just a bit, when the mystery just halts. As with any mystery, there’s probably no way to end it that will satisfy everyone. Nonetheless, it was appropriate to the tone of the film and to the characters and the drop in the energy that occurs in the last fifteen or twenty minutes is my only issue and the sole reason it doesn’t sit atop my list of 2016 films, so far.
Also, I understand the comparisons to Close Encounters. I also felt a little bit of E.T. and some of The Sixth Sense in there as well. It’s a soft-spoken, character-driven supernatural story that punctuates the nuances with intense moments of surprise, thereby providing a little bit of something for everyone.
I’m again reminded of all the people who complain that there is supposedly no originality in Hollywood and yet they rarely seem to have any interest in seeing a film like Midnight Special. Put your money where your mouth is and check this one out it it’s anywhere near you.