Midnight Special Review
Dusk comes, the night settling like a smothering blanket over the embers of the horizon. A man peers through a peephole from inside a sparse Texan hotel room. “It’s time,” he says to another man. The television in the background reports the Amber Alert for a young boy, taken earlier by a man who may be his father.
That same man, stone-faced, moves towards the bed, gently lifting a tented sheet from off the boy beneath. The child looks up from the comic book he’s reading with a flashlight; tanning goggles cover his eyes, a protective set of earmuffs cling to his head. As he’s told it’s time to go, the boy nods silently.
Hurrying to the car, they don’t notice the hotel desk attendant as she recognizes them from the report, and begins dialing. As they speed down the dim highway, the driver asks the other man for his own goggles, night-vision capable. Putting them on, he shuts off the headlights, and the car speeds through the deepening darkness.
This is the audience’s introduction to “Midnight Special,” the tale of Roy (Michael Shannon,) who has absconded with his son young Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) from the religious cult that he’s been with for the last few years and is now taking him to a mysterious location with the help of his own old childhood friend, Lucas (Joel Edgerton.)
However, it’s not the cult that has reported the Amber Alert: the FBI has been investigating the group’s compound and it’s charismatic leader Calvin Meyer (Sam Shepard) for some time now: but strangely, their most pointed questions revolve around Alton and his “abilities,” that the believers interpret as their own spiritual communication from the divine. March 6 is approaching, they tell Agent Miller (Paul Sparks) and NSA communications analyst Paul Sevier (Adam Driver) — and they’re certain it’s Judgment Day.
In the meantime, Roy and Lucas are trying to stay one step ahead of both the cult and the authorities, driving in the night and avoiding the light to keep from exacerbating Alton’s violent fits when his abilities manifest. They’re not certain where they’re going: but all Roy knows is that he believes in the boy, and that he will pay any price to protect his son.
Is Alton indeed divine? Something alien? The next step in evolution? The only way to know is reaching that destination by March 6, when all may finally be revealed.
While “Midnight Special” has only opened in selected theaters so far, it’s worth the avid cinephile’s effort to seek it out. Shannon’s quiet intensity translates well as the father pushed to his limits to help his boy, newcomer Lieberher has a distinct, gentle, otherworldly quality about him, and Driver charms as the awkward NSA analyst thrown into deeper waters than he knows. The film draws the audience into the mystery of what Alton really is, and the more far-reaching consequences for the parties involved and the world at large.
Part road trip, part supernatural mystery, part sci-fi thriller, “Midnight Special” is a potentially sleeper hit, waiting for you to experience it in the velvety darkness of the theater.
“Midnight Special,” Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton and Adam Driver star in this sci-fi mystery about a father and son on the run as the boy’s supernatural powers are manifesting. Rated PG-13 for some violence and action. Four stars.
About: Thom DeMartino II
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