In many ways Midnight Special is a film about fear. Fear of losing what we have. Fear of living without something or someone that we hold in great reverence, and perhaps above all, fear of the unknown.
Then again, to label Jeff Nicholl’s engaging science fiction thriller soley in such a way is to only tell a part of the story.
Alton Meyer (Jaeden Lieberher) is a young, gifted boy with special abilities way beyond the comprehension of human beings. He is introduced, head under a sheet, reading a comic book by torchlight whilst wearing a pair of protective darkened goggles. He is in the company of two men that have apparently kidnapped him with assorted television news bulletins reinforcing this story. The three of them make a hasty exit from the motel room in which they’ve been holed up in the wee small hours. It’s clear that they’re on the run; but from whom and to what ends?
The truth is that Alton’s special powers are a wholly misunderstood phenomenon, and have been spooking the living daylights out of everyone and everything that he encounters. Comparable to some vampire-like entity he cannot be exposed to direct sunlight lest some truly bewildering supernatural upheaval occurs.
Aware of such powers, the FBI, and separately, representatives from the ‘cult’ from which he and his father have run, are hot on his trail. Both parties realise the value of the boy and, through their ignorance, the potential danger that they believe he may represent to them and the world at large. It is unthinkable therefore that he may ultimately evade their clutches.
Alton however, guided by his father, Roy, and his state trooper friend, Lucas, is moving ever closer to his own personal date with destiny, and he has a father that’s hell-bent on getting him there.
It’s a relief to see Adam Driver not portraying unconvincing villainous super-beings on this occasion and instead, he’s well cast as mild-mannered, Sevier, the man tasked with tracking the boy down. It’s the excellent Michael Shannon and Joel Edgerton that play Alton’s father and friend, whilst Kirsten Dunst convinces as warm, caring and maternal, Sarah Tomlin.
For a film of 12 A certification it’s surprisingly intense and at times even a little disturbing as was pointed out to me in no uncertain terms by my co-viewing partner on the day whose view was erratically framed by the gaps between her own fingers. The overriding sentiment though is one of beautiful mystery, questioning just exactly what it is that lies beyond our own limited sensory perceptions and the importance of embracing the unknown.
It’s a slow-cooked science fiction yarn that gradually reveals itself, taking the wise option to focus more upon its characters’ interactions and relationships than the simple thrill of the pursuit. That said, writer and director Jeff Nichols strikes a good balance here and still succeeds in sustaining an ominous sense of threat throughout that the ‘powers that be’ are surely closing in.
There are certainly significant nods of the head to ET, tips of the hat to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and perhaps even a passing influence taken from Spielberg’s masterpiece, A.I, but credit to Nichols, Midnight Special still convinces sufficiently on its own terms.
A film not quite of such significance as the aforementioned classics, but, along with the likes of Ex-Machina, an important place-marker for the science fiction genre in the twenty-first century, nonetheless.