Ten Minutes To Midnight

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Ten Minutes To Midnight
"Williams is fantastic in the central role."

Do you ever listen to late night radio programmes? There's a special art to presenting at that hour. A lot of listeners are driving and they need to be kept awake but not distracted. Others are lonely, sitting through late shifts with only the radio for company or isolated in their homes. For decades now, Amy (Caroline Williams) has been a lifeline for such listeners. Now, however, her boss (William Youmans) has decided that they (and he) would respond better to a younger woman. He's picked a hell of a night to tell her.

Amy is late to the studio. She's never late. It's understandable, however, given the awful weather and the encounter she had with a bat along the way. Her colleague tells her that she really ought to go to the emergency room and get those puncture marks on her neck checked out, but the storm makes that impossible. Ever professional, she's determined to tough it out and get on with the show - but that's before she encounters smug twentysomething Sienna (Nicole Kang) and the boss' plans come spilling out.

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Anxiety, confusion, aggression, hallucination. All these are common symptoms of rabies, and although they don't normally manifest in humans for at least four days after infection, it seems fair to allow a little artistic license in this case, especially as Amy's wounds are rather too large and livid to have come from any ordinary bat found in the US. Besides, distinguishing between behaviours induced by disease and those brought on by external circumstance isn't always easy. For countless centuries, women's response to discrimination and sexual exploitation has been conveniently given a medical explanation: everything from hysteria to pre-menstrual stress. Here, director Erik Bloomquist flips that around by making what could be an illness feel like a vehicle for well deserved revenge.

Williams is fantastic in the central role, perfectly capturing that smooth-toned radio voice but also showing us the fury, subdued and otherwise, of a woman who feels that her career has been snatched out from under her. Years of working on the night shift means Amy has rarely seen daylight - another echo of vampirism - and has all but abandoned any possibility of romantic or family life. She makes no secret of her belief that Sienna has traded sexual favours for employment, though when it comes to sexual presence, the younger woman doesn't stand a chance. Williams may be in her sixties but she clearly has no intention of fading quietly into the background the way women are expected to.

The difficulty with this film is that it delivers a magnificent slice of verbal viciousness when Amy first starts to lose her patience on air, and then never quite manages to recapture that high. Amy's real power lies in her way with words, not in what she can do with teeth and claws, fun though that may be for the special effects team. There are some entertaining gore effects nonetheless, and Bloomquist gives some of the violent scenes a powerful sensuality which hints at the rest of what Amy has been repressing.

As her strange cravings come and go, conversations seem to play out of sequence, pieces of dialogue are repeated in different forms, and it becomes difficult to tell what is real and what hallucination. This is always a difficult approach to pull off and it isn't altogether successful, but by and large Bloomquist does manage to keep it interesting, with each alternate perspective providing its own reflections on Amy's situation and the wider social circumstances that have contributed to it. Furthermore, in combination with the film's title (which is also the title of Amy's show), this technique creates a constant sense of expectation, as if a clock is about to strike and signal some still more dramatic transformation.

For men who complain about rabid feminists, this film delivers some salutary perspective. It's not the strongest horror film of recent months but Williams alone would be worth the price of watching, and it has what it takes to get you through the night.

Reviewed on: 18 Jan 2021
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Ten Minutes To Midnight packshot
A late night radio host is trapped inside the station by a violent storm after being bitten by a rabid bat.
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Director: Erik Bloomquist

Writer: Erik Bloomquist, Carson Bloomquist

Starring: Caroline Williams, Nicole Kang, Nicholas Tucci, William Youmans

Year: 2020

Runtime: 72 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US

Festivals:

Grimmfest 2020

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