Michael Shannon embodies the qualities of Midnight Special perfectly; he’s incredibly menacing but equally sympathetic and warm. There’s even some humour lurking under the sombre exterior.
Jeff Nichols’ follow up to McConnaissance keystone Mud follows Alton, a child with a supernatural gift, being pursued to different ends by authorities and a fundamentalist cult. Shannon is an abductor and a protector of Alton. On paper what sounds like a romp feels a lot more grim, dangerous on screen. It’s as if a classic Spielberg plot was told from the concerned adults’ point of view.
The screenplay is preoccupied with mystery and it rations information and intrigue rather than fun set pieces to keep us interested. It’s a gamble that pays off in spite of being a semi-rote tale of a movie messiah on the run. Nichols knows when to throw a surprising image our way before we lose interest. The film can be read as a straight sci-fi piece or religious allegory but in truth it has more in common with a superhero origin story, as alluded to by the Superman comics that Alton devours. In this way it’s more akin to Unbreakable than ET.
Jaeden Lieberher’s Christ child is largely a plot device but is surrounded by an incredible adult cast. Shannon is wonderful in his usual, Frankenstein-like way as a dangerous father figure and Adam Driver kills it as a modern day Mr Keys. (Has Driver ever given a bad performance?) Kirsten Dunst manages to play ‘weary and concerned’ with gusto. Enough so that she stands out in the middle of this storm of magic and brewing violence.
The tone will be too joyless for many. This is best viewed as a feature length version of a twilight zone episode. It’s a mystery that unfolds immune from irony and with a straight face right to the end. It’s then our dour faced ensemble’s faces flicker with an admittedly Spielbergian sense of awe.
Midnight Special is in cinemas on Friday 8th April. Check out the trailer below.
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