Year of Release: 2016
Director: Jeff Nichols
Jeff Nichols does a good job in keeping this film ticking along albeit at a slower pace than what is normally seen,however, it is let down by committing to neither Sci-fi or Thriller genre totally leaving it in a middle ground that never fully captures the imagination or the heart.
Roy Tomlin (Michael Shannon) is on the run along with Lucas (Joel Edgerton), a boyhood friend. They are harbouring a refugee, a boy of eight called Alton (Jaeden Leiberher) from a cult who appears to be the object of their worship and revered as a prophet.
We learn slowly about the story, piece by piece, unveiling information as required. The cult worshipped Alton and preached from the information that he could relay to them. Roy is a former cult member and is also Alton’s father. Lucas is a State Trooper who hasn’t heard from Roy since they were kids but has been brought into this by being shown what Alton can do.
This is the Sci-fi element right here. Alton has some ability to interact with radio waves, high level communications, satellites and other unspecified talents. He also has been used by the cult in the past in a kind of drug/information download, reminiscent of “seeing the light” as Alton shines light from his eyes straight into the eyes of the cult member. From early on we learn that Alton is not of this world, he isn’t meant to be here and the journey that they are on is to deliver him to the world that he belongs to.
And this is where the thriller part comes in. Roy and Lucas are transporting Alton to his final destination, and also they are joined by Sarah (Kirsten Dust) as they get closer to their goal. However, the cult aren’t about to let their saviour get away that easily so some members are tasked with hunting them down and bringing him back. And on top of that too, the FBI/NSA have gotten wind of this cult and the teachings that they have been preaching are actually from highly confidential, encrypted communications which were intercepted by Alton and passed on. Whilst there are some moments of tension they are few and not very heightened. There are moments of despair which are well done and are well acted, particularly by Michael Shannon who appears to be very adept at playing the pained, concerned parent very well.
Roy realises that he has been out-grown by his son, he is now weaker than Alton as he gains more understanding of his powers. As they near their destination it becomes apparent that they are going to have to do something drastic in order to reach their goal. This is done through the age-old adage of the parent sacrificing themselves for their offspring, and this happens here as Roy drops Sarah and Alton off before leading the Army on a self-sacrificing wild goose chase, giving Alton the time he needs to open the gateway to the other world and allow his transfer to happen. The other world appears to be inhabited by “beings of light” and all appear to be above the human world and I found it hard not to see the connections to the religious: ascending to the “other world”, beings of pure light, stigmata-type light emanating from Alton’s palms, cult members needing to “see the light” from Alton’s eyes. But that might just be me!
Adam Driver puts in a decent cameo as Paul Sevier, an NSA agent tasked with working out what Alton knows and what they are doing with him. Unfortunately he adds little to the story but does fit into the atmosphere well with his slow, methodical presence.
For all the niceness of this film, and it has a decent visual style, nothing over the top, the story feels like it has been done before:
Something precious has been stolen/taken from a group. They send out some people to hunt them down to retrieve it while at the same time the authorities are also after the precious object for their own devices, culminating in no-one being able to keep hold of the precious object as it manages to escape to where it really belongs.
Sound familiar? Maybe this is just one of those mythical “fundamental story lines” that everything is supposedly derived from but it didn’t feel exciting or fresh in my eyes. like I had seen this story before.
Midnight Special, whilst a decent watch turns out to be Nothing Special.