I desperately wanted Midnight Special to be, well, special. Alas, Midnight shows-promise-but-must-try-harder might be a better title. There are some genuinely intriguing ingredients in director Jeff Nichols’ science fiction drama, but quite honestly it fails to bake into a satisfying whole, mainly because certain elements of the screenplay remain undercooked.
Alton Meyer, as the poster tagline goes, is not like us. He has powers strange enough for an entire Texas cult to adopt him and build their teachings around him. At the outset, Alton has been abducted by his biological father Roy (Michael Shannon), former State Trooper Lucas (Joel Edgerton) and his mother Sarah (Kirsten Dunst). The cult wants him back, as do the FBI, who are also interested in his peculiar gifts, particularly their consultant Sevier (Adam Driver).
This genuinely intriguing first act gives way to a ponderous mid-section that short changes the viewer on key plot elements, for example regarding the cult. Performances are all good and the direction is strong, yet Nichols fails to captivate here the way he did in his earlier films Mud and Take Shelter. This is a shame, as the film really has its heart in the right place – especially in it’s depiction of sacrificial parental love.
Nichols’ obvious inspiration is Spielberg, particularly Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. The Extra Terrestrial. John Carpenter’s Starman is also a key inspiration, but despite this being a grown-up film, I also detected shades of Escape to Witch Mountain, DARYL, Flight of the Navigator and other more family friendly sci-fi outings. There’s also a slightly Terence Malick feel to proceedings, as well as a pinch of Brad Bird’s noble failure from last year, Tomorrowland. Unfortunately all of the above films – from the classics to the misfires – are better than Midnight Special.
Really this is one for sci-fi completists only. Most viewers are likely to feel as dissatisfied as I did.