Midnight Special is a film I definitely enjoyed, but didn’t quite know what to make of it. I likely the sort of 70s throwback to Close Encounters feel of it, but as with many films, the point of it all eludes me. There was a lot to love about this film, and I’m very glad I made the trip out to the theater for it. Unfortunately though, the big picture I’m still a bit lost on.
Alton Meyer (Jaeden Lieberher) is a small boy with special powers. Before the film begins, his father Roy (Micheal Shannon) kidnaps him from a religious cult who believes he is their savior. Along with Ray’s childhood friend Lucas (Joel Edgarton), and Alton’s mother Sarah (Kirsten Dunst), Roy and Alton travel across the country avoiding both the cult who wants their savoir back and the government who wants to discover exactly what Alton’s powers consist of.
Wouldn’t we all. One of the cool things about this movie is how information is doled out in the early going. It’s more about how much backstory Nichols is letting the audience in on rather than what is specifically happening at any given moment. As such, Alton’s powers and why everyone is after them are not as clearly depicted as they might be, but considering how cleverly the exposition we do get is handled, I’d much rather have it this way. We do get clues as to what Alton’s powers are throughout the film, but they or their significance are never fully defined, something that is both frustrating and wondrous.
Seeing other characters’ reaction to Alton throughout the film is interesting, especially his mother’s and father’s. Something that almost causes a rift in the group is whether or not to take Alton to the hospital when his abilities seem to be sapping him of strength. Though it’s clear his parents love him, they seem think getting Alton to location he’s supposed to be in at a certain time (the religious cult believes this is their day of judgement it’s unclear as to what it actually is) is worth nearly sacrificing the boy’s life. We learn later in the film from Sarah that the cult required Alton to be raised by the leader (Sam Shepard) rather than his own father, and that may explain the distance between them a bit. It’s definitely not your typical father-son road trip dynamics. He seems to be more playful around Lucas at some point, which causes a unconventional vibe among the group.
The acting in this film is phenomenal. It’s not the overly demonstrative Oscar-baity type of BIG acting you see in some films. The power is in the closeups, and the lines of the actors faces and the emotions in their eyes. This level of attention to actor’s faces is something you don’t see in a lot of films, and it definitely elevates the emotional impact of the film. The exact emotions playing out of Shannon’s (in particular) face are sometimes unclear, but in the theater I could feel it for sure. There’s also a scene towards the end where part of Alton’s origins are revealed visually, and any special effects they can sum up there fall short of the visual power of the closeups of the amazed bystanders.
I think I would say I liked Midnight Special. Is it a movie that will become a favorite that I will come back to again and again over the years? Probably not, but I really had a good time in the theater with it, even if I’m not quite sure what it was all about, exactly. It has a lot of impact in a theater especially, so if you’re on the fence about it my advice would be to opt for the theater experience and not wait to watch it at home.
Long story short: 3.5/4 stars
For Further Reading: