Midnight Special

Film, Science fiction
4 out of 5 stars
3 out of 5 stars
(8user reviews)
Midnight Special

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.

By: Joshua Rothkopf


Release details

Release date:
Friday April 8 2016
112 mins

Cast and crew

Jeff Nichols
Jeff Nichols
Joel Edgerton
Kirsten Dunst
Adam Driver

Average User Rating

2.8 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:0
  • 4 star:1
  • 3 star:4
  • 2 star:3
  • 1 star:0
1 person listening

I agree that I found the film unsatisfactory. The cult storyline was dropped and unnecessary where there was great potential. Most of the time I just wondered what the point was as the plot is weak. I kept waiting for it to get better...it never does.


I found this film deeply unsatisfactory.

The film essentially starts halfway through the story and very little background is provided so you just having to fill in a lot of the blanks yourself, including the end of the film as it's not clear what happens to the three adults who added Aston. I've come to my own conclusions but I like my films clear cut.

I can't fault the acting but overall I found this a random little story which would have made sense as an episode of a series but not as a stand alone film.


For weeks before watching ‘Midnight Special’ I tried not to read anything, listen to anyone or watch any interviews about it because to me, it looked like the sort of film you want to watch and be surprised by. Well, I can officially confirm that now having actually watched it, I am absolutely none the wiser. Don’t give the plot away, I hear you cry? Don’t worry, I couldn’t even if I wanted to.

Let’s start with the positives – there are some damn fine actors doing their very best here. Michael Shannon, an actor who could make the menu in a Chicken Palace sound like Shakespeare, is fantastically dark, moody and dogged. His unwavering love towards his son is moving and believable as is relationship with the beautifully understated Kirsten Dunst, an actress I like more and more every time I see her on screen. Bright, funny & articulate in real life, here she is tormented and sympathetic without ever being one of the standard female-under-forty stereotypes that Hollywood likes to wheel out on rotation…that’s virgin, slut & kook in case you’re wondering.

Matching Shannon on screen is the ridiculously talented Joel Edgerton and Adam Driver, the very best thing in that small, low-budget, independent space film that came out last December. Sam Shepherd is wasted in a role that could easily have been played by any decent character actor but I’ll forgive director Jeff Nichols’ casting indulgence there as everyone else is so worth the money, not least of all Jaeden Liberher whose refreshingly unassuming performance is a million reassuring miles away from the overblown performances of other young actors. His is a quiet story told with a truth and a vulnerability that made me ache at times for not only him but those around him.

For every ying there’s a yang however and I have to say that the plot here is one of the messiest, vaguest and most unsatisfying I’ve seen for a long time. There are simply too many unanswered questions and not in the form of ‘well I get what he was going for and this is what I think about it’, oh no. These unanswered questions are more along the lines of ‘err, what…?’ It’s hard to know what you think about something when you don’t really understand it and whilst I’m all for directors avoiding the spoon-feeding approach to movie making, I’m not even 100% sure that Jeff Nichols himself knew what he was trying to show us here. Honestly, if you’d asked me to describe the plot in detail before I went in and 20 minutes after the film ended, my answer would be the same.

It’s unquestionably an interesting film and one that provokes some superb performances from those on screen but for those of us off it, the slightly watery storyline just doesn’t do them justice.


I am mystified as to why this film has got such critical acclaim. It's a big, baggy mess that doesn't make sense a whole lot of the time - the story just doesn't tie together in any cohesive way. 

The acting is often cringeworthily bad and none of the characters the least bit likeable or even interesting!

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. 


This film has all the right ingredients and the director has been touted as the Next Steven Spielberg, but although I couldn't put my finger on it, there was something lacking in this movie.

The story is about a boy who is kidnapped, but you are left unsure as to whether he is really being kidnapped or rescued.  Who are the actual baddies if anyone?  It is an interesting storyline and acted well throughout, but to me, there seemed to be a bit too many loose ends to consider after I had come out of the cinema.

One to see if you're stuck for something to do, but don't cancel other plans to go.


This film has a lot going for it - the creepy kid, stuff happening you can't quite put your finger on but can't help trying to second guess, an evil protagonist in the shape of Sam Neill (boy, he's great in that role, makes you shiver). 

The retro sci-fi style took me back to films watched wide eyed as a teenager and it did manager to capture some of that through most of the film, with special effects making you glad you were in a Dolby surround sound big screen environment. It felt strangely familiar with a film from the very early 80's producing one of the most famous lines in cinematic history when we all desperately wanted to find something similar hiding in the shed at the bottom of our gardens. I'll have to leave you guessing on that one so as not to give too much away.

All in all I enjoyed Midnight Special. The dropped star is for the residual feelings afterwards, important as the 'after burn' of a movie means you can enjoy it even after the lights come up. The outcome didn't match the complexities of those theories swirling around my imagination and I felt a bit cheated, but it was worth a watch for the journey and effects if not the conclusion.


Let's make this review short and clear:

Sixth Sense meets E.T. and add a bit of 'what the hell is happening???' = Midnight Special

Gave it 3 stars because although is confusing it keeps you interested trying to guess what is happening.