Studio: IFC Midnight
Director: Julius Ramsay
Writer: Alston Ramsay
Producer: Alston Ramsay, Julius Ramsay
Stars: Alex Essoe, Perla Haney-Jardine, Dylan McTee, Ward Horton, Andrew Rothenberg, Joseph Anderson
A troubled couple becomes embroiled in an escalating criminal conspiracy following an unexpected encounter on New Year’s Eve.
Jeff and Lindsey’s already troubled marriage hits another bump in the road, literally, when Jeff mows over a man on the couple’s drive home from a New Year’s Eve celebration. Panicking because both of them had been drinking, Jeff convinces a reluctant Lindsey to take the man back to their house instead of to a hospital while they calculate their next move.
A chaotic situation becomes more complicated when Lindsey’s sassy sister Hannah makes an assumption about the bloodied body and takes unexpected action. Cops will be coming soon to ask questions no one is quite sure how to answer.
In the meantime, there is still much to uncover regarding the mystery man in the garage, because he wasn’t simply someone in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was specifically on his way to Jeff and Lindsey’s house, and no one seems to know why. The only thing for certain is everyone is hiding personal secrets connected to a conspiracy involving a cash stash that some will go to great lengths to capture.
How many murders would you be willing to cover up to keep $50,000? I thought the manic madness of “68 Kill” (review here) was a far-fetched case of how much crime could be committed over a relatively small sum of money. But the quartet composing the core cast of “Midnighters” resorts to incredibly violent extremes, and they’re spilling all this blood for $18,000 less.
Speaking of “68 Kill,” that movie’s growing snowball of “one thing leads to another” insanity has a tongue in its cheek that puts it on the subversively sly side of such a scenario. “Midnighters” goes to the opposite extreme, unstacking its Russian nesting doll crime caper through bleak atmosphere and dour characters fit for attending a funeral.
The setup for “Midnighters” pumps it with Hitchcockian blood of extraordinary circumstances taking ordinary people from frying pan to fire to inferno to volcano. Except the movie’s suspense is subdued by its sullen setting, resulting in less spirited energy when its noir-ish tone and tension is shouting to have a more scorching edge.
As can be the case with this kind of premise, plot progression is often implausible. Shortly before the final scene, I thought to myself, “if the survivors ever tried explaining this sequence of events once it was all over, no one would ever believe it.” Within moments of writing that note, a character explained everything (offscreen) to a particular pair of people, who then swallowed the story whole.
In the interest of enjoying escapist entertainment, overlooking improbabilities would be permissible if it weren’t for director Julius Ramsay’s curious choice to present each scene strictly straight. “Midnighters” doesn’t have to be self-aware or even “fun” about its fantasy. But buying into required disbelief isn’t rewarded by the same richness in storytelling that commonly comes in this vein of pulp fiction thriller.
Dylan McTee’s Jeff is a straight up sourpuss. Perla Haney-Jardine’s Hannah starts as a rebellious firecracker before her smolder gets smothered with the same blasé blanket. And Ward Horton plays his part like a pat cinema psychopath who has running mouth disease, spouting sinisterly whispered quips with unblinking eyes and high-arched brows.
Performances fulfill their roles precisely as written by Alston Ramsay, the other half of the brotherly duo behind the production. It’s just that after initial personalities are established, scripting traps everyone in a loop of connecting plot dots instead of truly digging deeper into development.
For the story to really sizzle, “Midnighters” is in search of a stylistic spark it never fully finds. Mood is instead strangely tuned for a supernatural ghost story in a Gothic haunted house, which is not where this dial should be set. That’s not a crippling misstep, but it is a critical one. Link that with a twisty tale needing one more coat of cleverness and characters that could use fresh paint themselves, and the murderous mystery dart only lands on the outskirts, despite aiming for the heart of the playfield.
Review Score: 55