Mud helmer Jeff Nichols reunites with cinematic muse Michael Shannon for sci-fi drama Midnight Special. Also starring Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver and St. Vincent youngster Jaeden Lieberher, it’s the acclaimed director’s first studio feature and his fourth collaboration with Shannon.
Taking inspiration from such Spielberg-ian science fiction fare as E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind which balance the exceptional with the personable, Midnight Special is a family orientated chase flick with unearthly goings-on.
Nichols’ latest feature revolves around 8-year-old Alton Meyer (Lieberher); a boy who can shoot light beams from his eyes and make satellites fall from space. Yikes, right? His super powers have, unsurprisingly drawn attention, and his estranged father Roy (Shannon) – who has broken him out of the religious cult he belonged to – believes he’s destined for something bigger. With both the cult and the US government hot on their tails, the father-son pairing, along with Roy’s ol’ chum Lucas (Edgerton) and Alton’s biological mother Sarah (Dunst) on hand to help, they must deliver their special boy to his rightful home.
“You’d have made a nice family,” commented Edgerton’s state patroller Lucas as he looked upon the mother-father-son trio in a dingy hotel room. Family is the key component to Nichols’ genre flick, something which resonates with the Spielberg works the Take Shelter director’s latest effort clearly takes inspiration from. Yet, unlike the previously mentioned sci-fi classics, there’s something disappointingly lifeless about Midnight Special.
Dark, brooding and slow to build, it’s a spectacle full of intrigue and mystery, with the ability to be one big ol’ tease as strange goings-on unravel frustratingly close-chested before our bemused eyes. This is the point, though – it’s far from a closed book, and an admirable feature of Nichols’ work, leaving us scratching our heads as to many of its unanswered questions.
Yet at its heart it’s unmoving, soulless family fodder. Other than a few moments of cheesy father-son soundbites, it’s an emotionless game of cat and mouse which the film lives and dies upon. If you’re able to buy into this central idea, there’s much to like about Midnight Special – if not, you’re left to ponder the what-could-have-beens: the more interesting Adam Driver, the gun-toting religious cult or other various plot-spoilery goings-on.