Michael Shannon is a dad who kidnaps his son from a cult in an intriguing sci-fi with echoes of Spielberg
Lately, indie directors have been paying homage to the blockbusters of their childhoods with films putting the acting and emotion first. (See Ryan Coogler’s ‘Rocky’ sequel ‘Creed’ and producer JJ Abrams’s ‘10 Cloverfield Lane’).
Now comes ‘Midnight Special’, a brooding, excellent B-movie from 37-year-old director Jeff Nichols (‘Take Shelter’, ‘Mud’). Tensions brew as we watch a sad-faced eight-year-old boy, Alton (Jaeden Lieberher), in the backseat of a car, up long past his bedtime. In the front sit two severe-looking men (Michael Shannon and Joel Edgerton). Motel TVs blare out alerts about the missing kid; the situation looks worse than bad. But soon we learn that one of these guys is Alton’s nervous dad, who’s fleeing a cult-like group called the Ranch. Its leader (Sam Shepard, deliciously evil) has apocalyptic plans for Alton; so does a nerdy government agent (‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ actor Adam Driver) who brings the whole of national security in helicoptering pursuit.
If you remember the awestruck nocturnal mystery of Steven Spielberg’s ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ or the spooky extrasensory kids of Stephen King’s ‘Firestarter’, you’ll shiver at the setup. Nichols knows his way around a low budget, but for his fourth film he’s kicked his game higher: this is a Hollywood film of unusual poise and conviction.
Even more impressively, amid special effects that fire the imagination, Nichols has managed to retain his pet themes of crazy faith and the pressures of fatherhood. ‘Midnight Special’ is a movie worth believing in. It’s an alternative to the assembly line that turns hot young directors into purveyors of the latest shade of superhero spandex: this is sci-fi from the heart, and it’s out of this world.
Cast and crew
Average User Rating
2.8 / 5
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Enjoyable but pretty pointless sci-fi tale of a kid who is clearly 'not of this world'. It is at its best when it is mysterious and enigmatic and merely hints at something 'alien' - it is less successful in its all-revealing climax. The performances are good, nice to see Joel Edgerton, and the direction is assured, but as a film it just doesn't achieve lift-off.