Review: MIDNIGHT SPECIAL (2016)

By Darin Skaggs

 

Jeff Nichols is a filmmaker that tells stories about family through genre pictures. In his debut film Shotgun Stories he took a look at the dynamic of siblings. In his 2011 film Take Shelter he explores the beauty and hard times of a marriage through a tale of a man who is having post-apocalyptic visions. In Mud, his 2013 outing, he gives the point of view through a child who learns to grow up and understand everything his parents are going through while hanging out with man child in need of his own coming of age story. In Nichols new film Midnight Special he takes on a similar theme. Instead of the point of view coming from the child observing the adults the movie lets the parents be the observers to a child’s story, which is all told through a fantastic, sci-fi mystery thriller.

In this sci-fi adventure we find ourselves with determined father Roy (Michael Shannon) accompanied by childhood friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton) driving at night time with Alton (Jaeden Lieberher), Roy’s son who they have kidnapped from The Ranch, a cult type location. We later figure out Alton is the holder of strange powers that The Ranch took as some sort of Godsend, a savior type and the federal government has also got involved with a dedicated search for the young boy. They drive by night, not only because it is more hidden, but Alton is sensitive to the light. With little information Roy and Lucas head to a location by a certain time that was babbled during one of Alton’s strange spells in hope that something will happen.

The big mystery in this film is perfectly executed; What is up with Alton? What do his powers mean? And, what will happen when our heroes reach their location? These are all parts of the movie that I was heavily invested in. The main reason is the well done character development. Roy is played well by Shannon, which is no surprise to anyone familiar with his acting career. Lucas is a good character who is mainly doing this risky deed because the beauty he saw from Alton’s powers. Eventually, we meet Alton’s mother, Sarah (Kirsten Dunst) who is heartbroken as the mother who left so to not have to watch her child be raised by the cult leader. They all are great performances who with the subtle moments make them relatable. Even the antagonist in the film could not be labeled as villains and have moments of genuine beauty. Seiver (Adam Driver) is one of the people in the federal government who is after Alton. He does not want to hurt the kid, he just wants to know what he is all about. He has an understandable curiosity for what the mystery that we are as invested in as well. The script is tight, it builds a world that is relatable despite this phenomenon of a child being the center piece of it.

Midnight Special finds itself in a to-be-classic science fiction film because it is filled with metaphors and themes that fill most Nichols films. As the estranged father and his friend drive the young boy away from the danger and to the mysterious location it is a clear metaphor for raising a child. They drive at night which symbolizes keeping children “in the dark” when it comes to the horrors of the world and letting them live a sheltered life. Alton’s journey is a look at a young person becoming closer to an adult. As the film goes on he makes more and more decisions for himself. He reassures his worried parents that certain moments will keep him safe even though it does not seem so. The grand finale seems like a young adult finding out what he is, what he wants to be and going out into the world to become just that. The situation of the two parents, who clearly care for one another, but put their kid first is a look at a kid growing up with divorced parents. Midnight Special is an epic, touching tale of growing up and find who you are that is told so well through its sci-fi story.

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