Midnight Special (2016) – Film Review

Thinly veiled take on the story of Jesus

midnight

Busy, busy, busy.  OK so earlier this afternoon I watched my fourth film in five days and this has ruined my good intentions of getting back into a structured weekly blog.  Anyhow, Midnight Special kicked off the film rush on Sunday and it is written and directed by Jeff Nichols.  He is best known for writing and directing Mud (2012) and what we get is another chase across the US as a young boy called Alton Meyer (Jaeden Lieberher) is trying to get back home.  He is on the run with his father Roy (Michael Shannon) and a family friend called Lucas played by Joel Edgerton.  He is being pursued by the religious sect he escaped from and various Federal agencies convinced he has somehow hacked their communication satellites.

The movie in its opening act works hard to keep the audience guessing as to whether this young man is a prophet whose ramblings are written down as structure or a kid similar to the one we saw in Mercury Rising (1998) who had an innate ability to hack code.  What is interesting is that it doesn’t attempt to resolve this tension.  Instead it mashes religion and science fiction together.  What we get is a variation of the story of Jesus Christ.  There is a question mark over how his parents could have had him (Mary and Joseph), there is a world that exists above ours (Heaven) and he is helped on his way by his disciples who find comfort and joy in his presence.  There is another thing that happens that marks the end of Jesus’s life on Earth but that would be totally giving the game away.

I enjoyed the start of the film as I tried to figure out what was what but as time went on an unsettled feeling came over me.  I couldn’t figure it out at first and then I suddenly realised like being hit by a ray of light on the road to Damascas that the film wasn’t fully explaining itself.  I’m all for movies that don’t overtly tell us everything but you have to at least give us a clue.  The biggest black hole centres on young Alton  How did he come to be with Mary and Joseph?  Why does he have to go home now?  What was his role on Earth?  Without these clues he starts to look rather manipulative using his shiny eyes to brainwash everyone around him.  Not what I would expect from  your local friendly Son of God.

Despite some of my misgivings about the way the story is handled Midnight Special still has plenty to recommend it.  Lieberher holds his own against the undoubted talents of Shannon and Edgerton and there’s a rare sighting of Kirsten Dunst not kissing a superhero.   The score relies on a simple but effective piece played repeatedly on piano that builds suspense and the grimy texture of the beat up cars and oft worn clothes gave the film a ’70’s vibe to me.  Not perfect but worth a watch and I bless thee with 3/5.

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