MIDNIGHT SPECIAL seemingly premiered under everyone’s radar. I hadn’t seen many ads or trailers about it and basically bought my ticket on a whim. Jeff Nichols, the writer and director, has been a name popping up on a wide array of lists for a few years now. I’ve only seen his second most recent film, MUD (which I highly recommend), but I’ve heard amazing things about his other two films as well. To put it plainly, the guy has talent and I can assure you we will be seeing more of him in the near future. His newest feature, and his fourth collaboration with the outstanding actor Michael Shannon, is a new and refreshing spin on the science fiction genre. Like I mentioned, I walked into this movie without knowing much of anything about it, so after 20 minutes or so of no science fiction to be seen, I was a little thrown off when the little boy starts shooting white beams from his eyes. It’s maybe the most grounded in reality sci-fi story I’ve experienced since reading Arthur C. Clark’s CHILDHOOD’S END.
Alton is an 8-year-old boy who has been “kidnapped” by his biological father (played by Shannon) and taken away from their cult-like ranch in rural Texas. Their only objective is to make it to the secret coordinates by the end of the week without being caught by the other cult members and the United States government. Things quickly get out of hand as Alton is revealed to have supernatural powers beyond anyone’s understanding. Along the way they encounter obstacles ranging from the local police force, to satellites falling from the sky. Everyone wants the boy, but all he wants is to go home.
The story really sits on the father and son relationship between Alton and Roy and the mystery surrounding Alton’s powers and where exactly he comes from. We are only teased with what he is capable of and the knowledge he holds, but it is very apparent that his powers are great and only growing stronger. That was my favorite aspect of the film. By all accounts it’s a superhero movie. What sets it apart is that the characters don’t know they’re in a superhero movie. It feels genuine and real. Alton is just a boy and Roy is just a father trying to protect his son. They aren’t trying to save the world or defeat any antagonist. The cult wants him for their religious beliefs and the government wants him because they believe he is a weapon. It doesn’t matter and our protagonists are the only one’s who understand that.
I can’t get over how surprisingly deep this movie is. It hits several different dramatic themes about parenthood, loss, and innocence. It could have easily been a straight up drama without sci-fi elements, but the magic and mystery add to the metaphorical meaning. It’s also very unpredictable. There’s a scene that, in any other movie, would have led to an epic car chase down the interstate. What we get instead is a slow (in a good way) and incredibly visual series of events that came out of nowhere. It’s well paced, the characters connect with you, the cast is stacked (seriously, along with Michael Shannon are Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Sam Shepard, and Adam Driver), and the music is absolutely amazing. It’s rare that a science fiction movie… excuse me… it’s rare that an independently produced science fiction movie feels so real and grand all at the same time.
To reiterate, Jeff Nichols is going to do great things. In fact, he already has. The proof is in Midnight Special.
4 out of 5 stars
Run Time: 1h 52min