Saturday, April 16, 2016

Midnight Special (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Midnight Special

Director Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter, Mud) always illustrates his films in an offbeat dark tone. In the previous  "Take Shelter" Michael Shannon plays a character who sees supernatural activity, specifically an apocalypse and he may, or may not be insane. In "Mud," two boys happen upon a homeless person with an obscure past pointing to either protection, danger or perhaps both. It is this abiguity that makes Nichols' works so watchable.

In "Midnight Special" the director takes on the question of the supernatural once more and thankfully, he always keeps one guessing. Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) a young boy in a religious cult is taken away by his parents (Michael Shannon and Kirsten Dunst) and ally Lucas (Joel Edgerton).  Alton is much sought after but it is unclear why. Is he a messenger or an eerie Dalai Lama? It is anyone's guess.

The cult depicted is scary in itself, watched over by Sam Shepard. Alton is hidden away and driven by night to safehouses and woods, in short any place technically off the grid. The four are also pursued by a pale and spaced out scientist played to weird perfection by the "Star Wars" villain actor that we love to hate, Adam Driver. Night after night, the four are relentlessly chased though vast stretches of dark cement.

No place is safe. There are sudden explosions and tremors. Like the best of the director's films, this one too, takes on the logic of a dream. Seemingly there is no rhyme or reason to these frightful events. In what could have been an ordinary cat and mouse pursuit film, this director gives his story a boyish haunt and energy, reminicent of Spielberg, but with enough of the shock and sudden terror that are Jeff Nichols' hallmarks.

Michael Shannon is solid once again as is his co-star Lieberher. The two accomplish so much with only the intensity of facial expression. When the two interact, the film almost makes a fine addition to the genre of silent film---so much is given with minimal looks. While at first the lack of information proves vexing, the unfullfilled questions make this story all the more riveting: who is this boy? Are we in the realm of "E.T. " or "The Village of the Damned?"

Perhaps we have both. "Midnight Special" asks more questions than it answers. It is this mystery though which makes the story. The curiousities are put in a thrilling Saturday matinee format with an angst that recalls "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and "The Day the Earth Stood Still."

Disregarding an "aha" moment, the story holds its magic. Alas, a mere suggestion is always better than a  final flourish.

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