Midnight Special

*****

Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

Midnight Special
"A sublime family thriller"

Jeff Nichols is a filmmaker who creates worlds we get to inhabit for a while - worlds that linger long after the movie has ended because they are deeply rooted in cardinal human concerns. The love for a child and the painful realisation that this being will ultimately be out there on his or her own, without parental protection. Questions of trust, instinct and sacrifice are artfully scrambled throughout the plot, making the suspense poignant and the supernatural relatable.

Michael Shannon, the magnetic star in the writer/director's universe (Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter, Mud and the upcoming Loving) becomes Roy, quintessential father figure, a storybook hero with calm and dedication, redefining parenthood. Kirsten Dunst's Sarah, no less devoted to her son and his mission, makes believable what we can almost grasp through her expressive face. Sarah and Roy have trust in their child - the problem is, how to act, what to do, when the institutions enveloping them see their son as a bounty, spiritual, military, or otherwise.

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In the sublime family thriller Midnight Special, Roy is a former member of the Third Heaven Ranch, a cult headed by Calvin Meyer (Sam Shepard). Roy's 8-year-old son Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) has very special powers and needs to be re-united with his mother, before embarking on a mysterious and urgent quest. We first meet Alton, Roy and his friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton) on the run from everyone - the cult, the police, FBI and NSA.

In a spectacular race against time, often in the dark, they go on a road trip unlike any other, while the true story slowly unfolds like a gigantic flower nobody knew existed. Not knowing is just as important as knowing here and that goes for characters and viewers.

Midnight Special features a sermon entirely made up of numbers and an NSA agent named Sevier (Adam Driver) puzzling out the data of an unprecedented event in human history with the help of nebulous clues. The names work perfectly on two planes of storytelling. They are average enough not to be noticed - as any Luke, Paul, or Sarah can confirm - but once you do, a new map of constellations emerges suspended above the plane we know - where the Bible meets global warming.

How come people believe in something and not something else? How does it feel to drive at night on a country road without lights? Why do the men in the cult look like regular men with bad taste in shirts, whereas the women in long skirts and special hairdos are physically branded by their Amish-inspired cocoon?

The unearthly is not presented as other, but is a logical, finely spun extension of the relationships that exist out there in the American South. Midnight Special embraces contradictory feelings - the cosiness of a nightly ride for a small child, snuggled on the backseat of the parents' car, and the sudden discovery that humanity is not at all functioning the way you thought it would.

Reviewed on: 15 Mar 2016
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Midnight Special packshot
A man takes his eight year old son on a special journey.
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Director: Jeff Nichols

Writer: Jeff Nichols

Starring: Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Jaeden Lieberher, Adam Driver, Sam Shepard

Year: 2015

Runtime: 112 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

Festivals:

BIFF 2016
SSFF 2016

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