Directed by Julius Ramsay.
Starring Alex Essoe, Perla Haney-Jardine, Dylan McTee, and Ward Horton.
Midnight, New Year’s Eve: when all the hopes of new beginnings come to life – except for Lindsey and Jeff Pittman, whose strained marriage faces the ultimate test after they cover up a terrible crime and find themselves entangled in a Hitchcockian web of deceit and madness.
Julius Ramsay’s Midnighters evokes a self-proclaimed “Hitchcockian” blend of American Psycho (suburban Patrick Bateman) and Body (the Larry Fessenden one). Reliant on multiple twists that elongate a young couple’s catastrophic 24-ish hours of torture, but undeserving of one-too-many jarring pivots. It’s not enough that characters are distressed by an accidental death. Players grind their own secretive mistrust into a story that – itself – is (over)loaded with mischief around every turn. Predictably unpredictable, and shot with a static evenness that begs for more livened madness.
It’s New Year’s Day, only minutes after midnight. Jeff (Dylan McTee) and Lindsey (Alex Essoe) drive home feeling reinvigorated by a fresh set of months (and some alcohol), as they talk about how this will be “their year” – until ramming into a tattooed thug. The man seemingly passes, Jeff suggests going home to compose frantic minds – but the thug isn’t dead! Sister Hannah (Perla Haney-Jardine) – just home from her own celebration – ends up getting attacked by the now conscious and angry assailant, who she shoots with his own gun. Once an accident, now a murder? Then the cops show up. And a mysterious visitor appears (played by Ward Horton). And dirty money is discovered. And – yeah, “shit gets complicated” as some might deduce.
I will say that director Julius Ramsay and writer/brother Alston Ramsay plot a most diabolical series of events. Not necessarily “unfortunate” given how most parties beg for their fates, but there’s a slick snowball effect that stems from forcing luck. A husband looking to fix marital issues with cold cash, a troubled sister coasting through her playgirl life – “This is our year” says a schemester relapses into *presumed* repeat pitfalls. Nothing earned, prices paid.
Pacing hastily zips to complicate narratives that are unaccompanied by blueprinted explanations. The battered thug isn’t just a random passerby, he’s a gunman hired with purpose. Hannah isn’t just a drama queen socialite, she hides a graveyard of boyfriends with – among many other issues – ties to botched financial pyramid schemes. “Detective” Smith (Horton) is no law enforcer, Jeff gets greedy, prisoners become captors – all of which are situational gravities explored with passing acknowledgment. Like how, for example, Jeff and Lindsey’s relationship is matter-of-factly made into a slippery mess despite nothing but a few sitcom quarrels (job issues, all work and no play, etc). Same with the introduction of their psychotic houseguest. Plenty of surface development without meaty origins.
Only making matters worse, cinematography and framing do little to fasten pulses or capitalize on home invasion fears. The dark of night covers early action while daytime and basement sequences are visibly rigid and still. Smith – pouring his blackened soul into pre-beating horoscope banter and walloping punches laid upon a tied up Lindsey’s jaw – is failed by routine camerawork. Uninspired shot selections, banal decor, frozen aesthetics – storyboarding far outweighs representation with intrigue. Locationally barren like production crews weren’t allowed to alter the film’s under-construction sets (aka country property) to inject a little “Good Housekeeping” vitality into Jeff and Lindsey’s dreamhouse.
Alston Ramsay’s indulgence in the morbid makes for a few killer moments of what you’d expect from a movie named Midnighters. Lindsey’s manipulation of Jeff peaks when declaring revenge on Smith, who’s now attached to a chair – three nails hammered through palm-flat flesh and fingernails (*major wince*). When debating what to do with their invader-turned-captive, Jeff naively munches on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. “Det. Smith,” in his prime, calmly displays just *how* dire his methods can be while flashing a crooked jackal’s smile – enjoyment in sociopathic mind games before mutilation. Ward Horton’s performance a Bateman-esque, chatterbox villain. If only the entire film could disrupt cinematic normality so ferociously.
Midnighters leaves you with the taste of something more complex – truly, there’s quite a lot happening – but it all folds together with such homogenized doughiness. Shot with more energy and contemplation, we’d be talking about a different movie. Interwoven stories that collide with doomsday qualities for all. Instead? The Ramsay boys offer glimmers of promise in a thriller most mundane, losing individual components to a single, by-the-books unraveling. Deceitful to a fault, albeit rooted in a criminal undoing with the best (aka worst) of intentions.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★ / Movie: ★★