The latest from IFC Midnight – the almost-too-appropriately-titled Midnighters – is a movie that starts off like a gory morality play, suddenly becomes a generic home invasion picture and eventually ends like a cat-and-mouse psychodrama. The problem is that it’s not particularly good at being any of those things, and it ultimately culminates with a lifeless thud that makes you wonder what the point of the proceeding 90 minutes was, precisely.
First time feature film director Julius Ramsay (best known for directing a few episodes of The Walking Dead and the MTV Scream series) doesn’t show off a lot of panache in his big screen debut. Rather, Midnighters is a hybrid genre film that plays things painfully safe, with molasses slow plot twists the audience can whiff 20 minutes before any of the characters in the movie do.
The film stars Alex Essoe (Starry Eyes) and relative newcomer Dylan McTee as married couple Lindsey and Jeff. They’re struggling with money woes and an uninteresting love life, and things get even worse for them after they turn some random 40-year-old dude jogging in the backwoods at 1 in the morning into a hood ornament. Considering they’re both a little tipsy, they figure it’s probably not the best idea to call the cops first thing, so they do what any level-headed, semi-drunk people would do after a near vehicular homicide – they drive back to their place with the nearly dead dude in the backseat and wait until they sober up a bit to make their next move.
Of course, the hit-and-run victim has a bit more life in him than they initially thought, and that’s when Lindsey’s hitherto unmentioned younger sister Hannah (Perla Haney-Jardine of Kill Bill: Volume 2) shows up out of the blue. From there we come to learn that the “victim” just so happened to have $50,000 on him, so now the three of them are starting to get a little paranoid and thinking about turning on each other, and that’s when a special detective named Smith (Ward Horton) shows up except he’s not really a special detective, and he already knows about the hit and run and the looted cash and … well, let’s just say it ends with at least one cast member getting gagged and bound in the basement for a while.
And after that, Midnighters is just one big, intelligence-sapping “plot twist” after another. Trust me, I’d really like to tell you how bad some of these curveballs are, but giving away just one of them would unravel the rest of the plot and the big surprise ending, so I guess I’ll just have to keep my lips sealed.
But on the positive side? At least the gore effects are pretty good, and the acting – while still cheesier than a microwaved bowl of Velveeta – is moderately better than the norm for a no-budget genre flick like this.
As for the highlights? We’ve got four dead bodies. No nudity (male or female). One hit and run. One point blank range jugular injury. Throat stabbing. Multiple fingernail impalements. One shootout. Teeth roll. Gratuitous spouse strangling. One attempted axe attack. And – if you can believe it – an entire subplot about swindling senior citizens out of their life savings with a penny stock scheme.
Starring Alex Essoe as Lindsey, the party hostess who gets punched in the face more times in this movie than Apollo Creed in Rocky II; Dylan McTee as Jeff, whose entire backstory is that he’s still pissy about not being good at college baseball; Perla Haney-Jardine as Hannah, the little sister who almost gets her face chewed off by an angry hit-and-run survivor; and Ward Horton as Smith, a poor man’s Ryan Reynolds who gets a taste of his own medicine in more than one way several times throughout the flick.
Directed by Julius Ramsay and written by his brother Alston Ramsay, who was actually a senior advisor and speechwriter for former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and General David Petraeus. No, for real.
If you’re looking for a tense psychological thriller, an above-grade home invasion feature or even a solid relationship driven horror movie, I’m afraid Midnighters isn’t likely to sate your appetite no matter what you’re looking for. There are some glimmers of hope here and there, but they’re too few and far between to make this movie anything more than a mediocre goulash of done-to-death subgenre tropes and cliches.
Like the would-be vehicular homicide victim at the beginning of the movie, I reckon you’re better off leaving Midnighters stranded by the roadside.
WICKED RATING: 4/10
Director: Julius Ramsay
Writer: Alston Ramsay
Stars: Alex Essoe, Dylan McTee, Perla Haney-Jardine, Ward Horton
Release: March 2 (Theatrical/VOD)
Studio /Production Co: IFC Midnight
Length: approximately 93 minutes
Subgenre: Home invasion, psychological thriller