Director and writer Jeff Nichols returns with his fourth feature, the fascinating and mysterious Midnight Special. Unlike recent blockbusters that reveal too much in the trailer, Midnight Special told you little and left audiences intrigued. The same applies for the film itself.
Roy (Michael Shannon) has fled a religious cult with his son Alton (Jaeden Lieberher). The boy possesses supernatural powers and is linked to a cryptic prophecy that will change the world. Roy enlists helps from his friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton) as they evade the cult and the FBI. Unfortunately Alton grows weak as his powers become more unstable.
Midnight Special is an incredibly focused and tight sci-fi thriller. Nichols disregards the need for tedious exposition and presents just enough backstory to set up the plot. Alton has powers, he’s on the run with his dad from the authorities and a couple of hardcore cult members. It’s simple and proves to be effective.
We are invited to speculate about Alton’s powers and their origin yet it’s not entirely important to the story. Nichol’s does show us these things but he doesn’t feel the need to tell us. The conclusion could have easily been frustrating but it isn’t, instead it wraps up the plot nicely while leaving audiences with compelling talking points.
The performances are brilliant with Shannon intense and absorbed in his role while Kirsten Dunst, as Alton’s mother Sarah, is understated with captivating emotion shining through. Lieberher is composed in his portrayal of Alton, displaying the childlike innocence that an 8 year old would have while carrying the incredible weight of his extraordinary existence.
Despite the sci-fi genre it finds itself in, Midnight Special is structured as a chase film and this is where the excitement lies. There isn’t any spectacular vehicular set-pieces and there doesn’t need to be. Nichol concentrates on the thrills of the chase itself, heightening the tension with each near capture and ensuring that the pace simmers just enough before allowing the stakes to raise back to the boil.
Midnight Special is a simple story told with an exceptional protagonist. Alton’s powers provide an unusual plot device in what is a straightforward tale existing in a sci-fi environment. An edge of the seat thriller set in a world where anything can happen, and it doesn’t disappoint.