Midnight, New Year's Eve: when all the hopes of new beginnings come to life - except for Lindsey and Jeff Pittman, whose strained marriage faces the ultimate test after they cover up a terrible crime and find themselves entangled in a Hitchcockian web of deceit and madness.
But in the case of the new psychological crime thriller Midnighters – greed also leads to confusion, betrayal and murder.
And with how awesomely enjoyable Midnighters is, I’ll have to agree with Mr. Gecko – “Greed is good”, because greed is the central theme of this film which had its World Premiere at the 2017 LA Film Fest. And without greed, we wouldn’t have this delicious Hitchcockian goodness.
Lindsey and Jeff Pittman (Alex Essoe and Dylan McTee; respectively) are driving home from a New Year’s Eve party – hosted by the bank where Lindsey works. They’re both a bit tipsy, so as they turn a corner on a remote country road, they slam into a man. With no cell reception, they lug him into their car and head for the nearest hospital. But the mysterious and bloodied man quickly succumbs to his injuries. They take the body back to their country estate (under heavy renovation) to figure out what they should do (again, they’re both drunk) and the subsequent events snowball into one mystery after another – also involving Lindsey’s younger sister and former juvenile delinquent Hannah (Perla Haney-Jardine).
As crime thrillers go, I can’t recall any recent films which so deftly kept an audience on its toes with character loyalty shifts, gasp-worthy revelations and an almost perfect break-neck pace.
There are elements here of Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart as well as the tension of a film like Diabolique. And while all of these murder mystery tropes are present and lovingly replayed, what sets this film apart, is that the central relationship is that of a failing marriage. Jeff is unemployed – a former baseball star and Lindsey works overtime to keep their lives afloat in an apparently never-ending home renovation. So that immediate tension and resentment sets the stage nicely – not all things are happy in happy-land. And with a constant argument around cash-flow – greed becomes this couple’s downfall – and everyone else’s for that matter.
As far as suspense and tension – Midnighters has these tough-to-pull-off qualities in spades. You’ll be on edge for most of it (aside from a tiny stumble of pacing in the second act) and those aforementioned shifts in loyalty will have you marveling at how invested you will become and how far forward you’ll sit in your seat – awaiting the next potential turn.
Director Julius Ramsay has a history in editing (for such shows as the Battlestar Galactica reboot) and directing for The Walking Dead. Knowing that this is his debut as a feature director – shows immense promise for a long and fruitful career. He understands how to play an audience and that’s certainly not true for everyone who takes on the reins of the director.
The dialogue is never dull. I found every word uttered by these characters – authentic to real life and more importantly perfectly suited for each specific character. Of note is a marvelously funny line from Jeff – responding to a claim that he has “Asian schoolgirl porn” stashed away in his basement man-cave. Perfect line for the character and a perfect delivery from McTee. There’s also an exchange between Jeff and Lindsey, in a particularly fever-pitched moment, where Jeff begins to ramble out a story in this very inopportune moment, to which Lindsey simply says, “Shut up, Jeff”. And it’s an under-the-radar moment, but quietly sums up both the characters and their already tepid relationship.
A great deal of the film is shot at night and with all of the darkness, you’ll never lose sight of what’s happening on-screen. So many films which take place at night (a majority of horror films) are never able to properly light these particular scenes. And so you’ll find yourself squinting or questioning or even rewinding the film (where you can) to confirm or deny what you’ve just seen. It’s a weird thing to call out, perhaps, but when it’s shot this well, it deserves mention.
Performances from the four leads are absolutely on-point. Not already mentioned is Ward Horton – probably best known to horror fans as the husband in Annabelle. The characters are all written quite well, so it doesn’t take much for these gifted actors to fall into their place and simply inhabit these roles. Not to downplay their prowess – but this really is a lovely and potent mix of strong actors with strong character histories in a strong story with strong dialogue. Everyone should be commended.
Alex Essoe (of Starry Eyes) is our lead and she deserves special mention. Lindsey’s exasperation at everything her husband says and does, is never far below the surface. You can actually feel her resentment, almost seeing it drip from her pores. And while you never really know what any of these characters are capable of (aside from perhaps Horton’s Smith) – I thought it was most striking to see where Lindsey would and does go – and Essoe hits every single one of the notes the dialogue and situations throw at her. It’s an emotional roller-coaster of a performance.
There are some cringe-worthy torture scenes – but they never venture into “torture-porn” territory (it’s not that kind of film), but that doesn’t mean you won’t be grabbing the arm of your film-going partner. It’s pretty gnarly. And there are some good “boo” moments – all organically rising out of the film’s circumstances.
With a perfectly-constructed mystery which will keep you guessing, excellent performances and great production values – Midnighters is certainly a contender for my “Best of” list at year’s end. Stay tuned for that!
But in the end, you’ll want to watch for those wacky and exciting shifts in character allegiance – they’re to die for (for the characters as well as potential audiences).
This showing was the film’s World Premiere – and so I assume only the beginning of a (fingers crossed) successful festival run. But that also means you’ll have to either check out some local festivals, or keep your eyes peeled for a forthcoming wider release. However you see Midnighters, just see it.
Remember – if the tantalizing concept of “greed” can inspire a brilliant picture like Midnighters, then we simply must bow down and agree with Gordon Gecko – “Greed is good.”