Spoilers are always a point of contention when talking about films, especially when writing reviews. Among friends, this often takes the form of debates about when, if ever, a piece of media becomes so old that it is acceptable to give away plot details. I have talked about this on The Art Show (every Friday at 1pm on Bay Radio (Arts Editor’s note: Nice promo Megan, tell your friends)) more than once, and our discussions have often related to this notion of a time limit, or whether it is OK to spoil plot details in the trailer.
For some films, spoilers are a fairly simple issue, the film has one big twist, and one should not reveal or, if possible, even hint at the existence or result of the twist. However, Midnight Special is of a different category of spoiler-vulnerable film, one I haven’t seen a great degree of discussion about, a category it seems fair to call Unfolding Films. In one sense every film unfolds; the entire process of watching a film is obtaining data about the fictional world of the film and the events that occur within it. However, I think Unfolding Films warrant their own category, because the discovery of new elements of the world is done in such a way that it is one of the key pleasures of the film. In particular what I think may set Unfolding films apart is that there are multiple moments of discovery, each of which provides sufficient additional context to totally change your perspective on the film, its world and events in it.
Midnight Special is one such film. The first half hour in particular is full of these wonderful unfolding moments, in which one learns more about the world and events in which a way that it grants a new perspective. Not only do these moments exist, but they are done so well and feel so satisfying that spoiling a single one would feel as though I am robbing a prospective viewer of a moment of pleasure, something I hope never to do.
However, I shall endeavour to furnish you with what information I can, while avoiding robbing you of a single pleasant moment of revelation. Midnight Special is a science fiction film , although it doesn’t particularly seem interested in the science part of that description, as the occurrences in the film are never given any real explanation. In fact, The film avoids explaining itself so much that many characters sometimes seem to act on faith alone, compelled by some revelation we cannot understand. Set in an apparent modern day United States, Midnight Special deals primarily with one particular set of occurrences surrounding an unusual child. The entire film takes place while the protagonists flee from various pursuers.
Beyond that, I find it very difficult to provide the sort of concrete information about theme, events or any other element that I usually like to include in a review, but I can do my best to impart my impression of the film; I found it, in many ways similar to The Revenant. While it is not a survival epic, much of its strength comes from a surprising depth, and the thoughts it can provoke relating to its themes and events. Midnight Special, while certainly containing action, is much more enjoyable once a viewer looks past the superficial and engages in exploring the themes and thoughts behind the film. In another way, I found it almost the opposite of The Revenant; in my review of that film, I praised it for its interesting take on human action, portraying everyone as someone who acts for a reason, a simple manifestation of cause and effect. Midnight Special does almost the opposite, with a number of characters acting based on an experience that we, as the audience, can never understand.
Because of this, characters seem to be acting on an almost inexplicable faith, which may be the films greatest weakness, but I would hesitate before calling this a true weakness, as it seems to be intentional. My main criticism is that a sufficiently genre-savvy viewer will be able to figure out where Midnight Special is going quite a while before it gets there, and it seems as though the film doesn’t improve a great deal on its formula. However, many films fit a formula and are excellent films, and while I was somewhat disappointed by the lack of a twist on the formula, the film continued to provide interesting unfolding moments right until the very end. The only other criticism I can levy seems almost petty, that the film uses an almost absurd amount of lens flare. The lens flare, while once an undesirable technological flaw, is now an aesthetic choice, one which can, in this film at-least, be distracting, especially when light is an important element in the plot and aesthetic of the film.
I usually hesitate to use a star rating for films. A film is such a complex work, and a viewer’s experience so subjective a simple star rating is such a blunt tool that it cannot do a film justice. However, as I wish to leave this film as unspoiled as possible, and so must talk about specifics so little, I feel the closest I can get to doing this film justice is to give it a star rating. I would rate Midnight Special a solid 4 out of 5, perhaps 4.3. while this is not particularly expressive, I hope it relates that I think this film is not perfect, but it was of sufficient quality that it is certainly worth going to see if this sort of science fiction is something you enjoy. If you get a chance, I would certainly encourage you to go see it knowing as little as possible.