Jeff Nichols adds another extraordinarily imagined and beautifully directed entry into his terrific young catalogue (see also: Take Shelter, Mud). Taking cues from ’80s Spielberg but adding his own, very distinct flavour to something eminently familiar, Midnight Special is an emotionally striking and deeply human science fiction gem.
Wherever there’s Jeff Nichols there’s inevitably Michael Shannon, who plays Roy, a father who kidnaps his own son Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) from a cult and goes on the run after discovering Alton possesses otherworldly powers. Along with his childhood friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton), they must take him to a specific location at a specific time, when a celestial occurrence might (or might not) take place, whilst all the while being pursued by federal and state officers. Nichols and cinematographer Adam Stone dazzle with natural light, with most of the film taking place at nighttime and the darks feeling so very dense. It’s delicately composed and at times kaleidoscopic, creating an ethereal and dreamlike quality which provides a perfect backdrop for the film’s central, heartrending struggle, as parents try to accept their child’s difference.
Or at least that’s how this viewer interpreted it. Inevitably divisive, the film tells its audience very little in terms of surface exposition, preferring to wrap itself in subtext and deeply revealing performances and directorial nuance. It allows each viewer to interpret the piece as they wish, rather than expending effort on “coherent” world building. Midnight Special will either leave viewers deeply frustrated, wrestling with the incomprehensibility of it all, or revelling in the magic of a confusing, beautiful world. For what this world may be unfamiliar in the events which occur, it’s intrinsically recognisable for the human interactions that take place within it.
Review by David Rank
Midnight Special is out now in the UK. Certificate 12A (UK). Running time 112 mins.