Directed by Oh-Seung Kwon.
Starring Wi Ha-Joon, Park Hoon, Ki-joo Jin, Kim Hye-Yoon, and Hae-yeon Kil.
A deaf mother and daughter try and escape a psychopathic killer in the dark backstreets of the city.
Korean genre cinema has been a thing of beauty to watch over the past few years – and not just the Oscar-nominated movies – and if there is one element that sticks out above all others it is the ability to weave a solid story amongst the exciting set pieces. Midnight is the debut feature from writer/director Oh-Seung Kwon and if this is where he is beginning his filmmaking career then the future of Korean cinema looks to be in very capable hands.
In Midnight we are submerged in dark backstreets and alleyways whilst psychopathic killer Do Shik (Squid Game’s Wi Ha-Joon) stalks his female victims and drags them back to his van. However, for his latest chase he has targeted Kyung Mi (Ki-joo Jin), a deaf young woman who is out and about with her mother (Hae-yeon Kil) – who is also deaf – and as Do Shik discovers that maybe Kyung Mi is a little more resourceful than her disability would initially suggest, Jong Tak (Park Hoon), the brother of Do Shik’s previous victim, is wandering the streets looking for his missing sister, a search that culminates in a standoff in a crowded city centre, where the killer can operate in plain sight.
Although Midnight certainly falls under the banner of a dark thriller, it is also fair to say that it has one foot hovering over the line marked ‘horror’; certainly Do Shik is as cunning and vicious as any killer you have seen in any number of slasher or giallo movies, and Oh-Seung Kwon’s flawless direction is definitely evocative of prime John Carpenter when it comes to neon visuals and placing the viewer in the world that the killer inhabits, but Midnight is not derivative of anything from Carpenter or the peak slasher era. Instead, it offers a slick and modern take on a familiar cat-and-mouse formula, where the gadgets that Kyung Mi has for motion detection come into play, assisting her and her mother as they communicate in a language that neither Do Shik or the police understand, which gives them the edge as they can act rather than react.
But in amongst the tense action, which is pretty much relentless from start to finish, there are little moments of social commentary peppered in. The police aren’t shown in a particularly good light, being slightly bumbling pen-pushers who seem very quick to take the suited-and-booted Do Shik’s word over the hysterical Kyung Mi’s, a point that gets repeated a few times and not just from the police, as the scenes leading up to the climax highlight. Jong Tak is also introduced as a bit unlikeable due to his strict treatment of his sister, although he is ultimately proved right and has his own heroic moments to gain our sympathies.
However, Midnight is about Do Shik and Kyung Mi, and both actors totally go for it as they seem to cover most of the city in their desperation. Wi Ha-Joon plays the creepy but charming villain with relish – give him a fake moustache and he’d no doubt twirl it – and creates one of the most insane horror characters in recent memory, and Ki-joo Jin is the perfect adversary for him, being totally sweet and innocent but resourceful when she needs to be, and keeping one step ahead of her pursuer in some very inventive ways that may not always be totally realistic but this is a movie and movies are meant to entertain, right? Props must also go to the cameraman who managed to keep up with them as they sprinted through the winding streets and dark alleyways as just watching them seems exhausting (in a good way) at times.
Overall, Midnight is an exceptional example of taking something overly familiar and making it feel fresh by simply creating characters we can get behind instead of the usual unlikeable caricatures or stock slasher victims. Such is the claustrophobic intensity and sense of frustration that the actors and director create that you barely notice that Do Shik should have easily caught Kyung Mi as he is clearly running faster than she is for most of the main chase, but it doesn’t matter as the movie climaxes with one of the most satisfying fist-in-the-air endings in a horror/thriller for quite some time, especially after such an exciting build-up. Yes, there are few small holes you could pick in Midnight but nothing that would take away from your enjoyment of one of the most gripping, suspenseful and brilliant thrillers of recent times, and it clocks in at under two hours which, for a Korean movie, is a rare thing indeed.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★