Studio: IFC Midnight
Director: Travis Zariwny
Writer: Travis Zariwny, Rob Kennedy, Jimmy Loweree
Producer: Frankie Lindquist, Cassian Elwes, Jeff Beesley
Stars: Lin Shaye, Gabrielle Haugh, Grayson Gabriel, Emily Haine, Louise Linton, Michael Sirow, Robert Englund
A young woman uncovers her grandmother’s sinister secret when she plays a mysterious game that summons a murderous entity.
It’s still relatively fashionable to slam “found footage” in certain circles. I hit the snooze button whenever vampires come into play. Others throw shade at haunted house horrors. Now that we’ve endured the one-after-another mediocrity of “Don’t Knock Twice” (review here), “The Crooked Man” (review here), “The Bye Bye Man” (review here), etc., can we add ‘conjuring creepypasta boogeypeople’ to the list of tired terror tropes to be put on ice for a while? Travis Zariwny’s “The Midnight Man” provides further proof that this subgenre has had all the energy, originality, and entertainment value fully sucked out of it, dropping the concept for dead along the side of a routine road.
Alex had ample warning not to play ‘The Midnight Game.’ The crusty old box containing the components was tied up tighter than a clam’s ass. One of the papers inside had more blood on it than writing. Alex’s dementia-afflicted grandmother Anna even stumbled into the creepy attic, accusingly screamed at Alex and her friend Miles for opening the box, and promptly collapsed on the floor.
Then there are the rules. My God, the rules. If ‘Bloody Mary’ equates to ‘Tic Tac Toe,’ and ‘The Charlie Charlie Challenge’ can be considered ‘Go Fish,’ then ‘The Midnight Game’ equals ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ for having the most complicated rule set of any urban legend summoning ritual.
Should you choose to play, first write your name on a piece of paper. Next, put a drop of blood by the name, light a candle, turn off the lights, attach the paper to the front door (which must be made of wood), knock 22 times at midnight (and finish before 12:01), go outside to extinguish the candle, reenter the house, relight the candle, and finally pet a partridge in a pear tree. Congratulations, you’ve just summoned the Midnight Man.
Wait, there’s more! Sigh. You must avoid the Midnight Man at all costs until 3:33am. Don’t fall asleep. Don’t stay in the same place. Also, if a candle blows out, it must be relit within 10 seconds. If not, the player must be surrounded with a circle of salt until the candle’s flame burns again.
Whatever happened to simply saying Candyman’s name into a mirror five times? This is convoluted enough to make an audience wish the characters just pulled out a good old-fashioned Ouija board, getting exposition out of the way 40 minutes faster.
Because that’s literally how long it takes for “The Midnight Man” to start moving. Ploddingly paced following a semi-splattery prologue, the overlong first act involves Alex and Miles belaboring the setup while Anna vogue-poses as a crazy old woman in excessive cutaways. Poor Lin Shaye. The much-beloved “Insidious” icon features as Alex’s sinisterly senile grandmother, yet her inconsequential rambling reads like ineffective improvisation. A flat script and flatter direction condemn the actress to freeze in a performance doghouse here.
Shaye’s borderline campiness still supersedes Gabrielle Haugh’s passive portrayal of Alex. Haugh has the look of a conventional college girl at the center of one of these standard scary movie situations. But her passionless voice directly reflects the monotone momentum of the movie. Haugh droops, lists, and shuffles as though sedated, ready to drop like a bored narcoleptic at any moment. Easy there, Alex. The audience has that covered.
Haugh’s drone is merely dull. The Midnight Man on the other hand, comically speaks with the generic growl of a cartoon gargoyle tormenting one of the Disney ducks. He can’t be taken as serious or as scary, which is obviously a problem because the film itself thinks it is both when it most certainly is neither.
Most of “The Midnight Man” involves a feckless drag of hollow pop scares with long lulls of dimly-lit house exploration or secondary characters arriving at serendipitous intervals. Alex and Miles’ friend Kelly shows up midway through as a late addition to the game. She supposedly knows more about the legend than anyone else, yet becomes the first person cornered and the first person killed. Then there is Robert Englund wedging his way in to verbally vomit the final bits of background in Act Three. Remember when Englund played compelling characters in memorable movies instead of Old Man Exposition in forgettable fright flicks?
The latter of course is what “The Midnight Man” is. A strange structure that includes a flashback to five minutes earlier when it would play the same sequentially contributes to clunkiness. So does a forced romantic moment burning with all the heat of an igloo in Antarctica. Uninspired efforts in indie horror are nothing new. But with notable names on the marquee and a pinch of press promoting public awareness, it’s not unreasonable to expect a better effort we simply don’t receive.
“The Midnight Man” sums up its unjustified sense of self in the following pretentious exchange during the ‘Epilogue,’ which is specifically identified as such in case viewers are too dim to get it. A boy touring the house in the aftermath asks of the victims, “what happened to them?” His father responds, “sorrow happened.” Huh?
A better question to conclude the movie would be, “what happened to kill everyone’s interest in this flaccid film?” Actually, never mind. That answer is a longer list than the rules for playing ‘The Midnight Game.’
Review Score: 30