By Charlie Jordin
Set in hazy Texas, Midnight Special is a subtle yet tense Sci-fi drama following a young boy, his father and a state trooper as they escape the pursuit of the federal government and a religious cult. Alton, the son, possesses a supernatural power in which a white beam shines from his eyes, giving people visions of unfathomable comfort and joy. He can also control his environment, causing satellites to fall from the sky. Alton’s family were members of the mysterious and violent cult known as the Ranch in which Alton was seen as a messiah. They escaped together, reuniting with a long lost friend, the state trooper, and Alton’s mother who was exonerated from the cult.
Due to Alton’s powers, he sleeps in the day as he cannot survive in sunlight. This means the film takes place mostly at night as the family have adapted to this nocturnal lifestyle. The film utilities artificial lighting of signs and street lights to illuminate the dark setting, creating a muted colour palette unusual of a Sci-Fi film. The director, Jeff Nichols, best known for dramas Mud and Take Shelter, is new to directing the genre, bringing a fresh aesthetic approach to Sci-Fi.
Michael Shannon plays Alton’s father and Joel Edgerton the state trooper. They both represent traditional Texan images of masculinity, husky voiced and dressed in cowboy attire. The other characters, including Alton’s mother played by Kirsten Dunst, are disappointingly understated and underwritten, making it impossible for the audience to connect with them emotionally. It is also difficult to sympathise with Alton’s parents as it is not clear whether they love him because he is their son or because he is seen as a messiah.
The audience needs to be actively engaged in order to understand what is happening at times and many scenes can be left to their interpretation. Unfortunately this is downplayed by how the plot is at times scattered and confused, so the most pivotal scenes somewhat fall flat. Alton’s powers serve too much as a plot device, conveniently being able to unlock doors and control electrical equipment so that him and his family can escape the authorities with ease, weakening the integrity of his character.
Midnight Special is flawed and may not be ground-breaking but it is a refreshing interpretation of the Sci-Fi genre and a much-needed change from the remakes and superhero films that currently occupy the majority of today’s cinema.
Charlie is a second year Film and Media student who loves old films and 90’s TV shows. You can follow her on Twitter here.