Thursday, May 24, 2018
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Review: ‘Midnighters’ Channels Hitchcockian Tropes in IFC Midnight Thriller

By: J. Carlos Menjivar

When the New Year rolls around talk of fresh starts begin to swirl in the air as plans for self-improvement make it on to a few to-do lists offering a clean slate for rejuvenation and new experiences. This is not the case in Julius Ramsay’s directorial feature debut (written and co-produced by brother Alston RamseyMidnighters. Lindsey and Jeff (Alex Essoe and Dylan McTee) are two parts of a failing marriage. Not really in the festive mood, the two decide to call it quits early and drive home slightly inebriated after Lindsey’s holiday party. In a drunkish effort by Jeff, to add some spice in their relationship, he attempts to rekindle a dying flame by getting touchy with Lindsey while driving. This short divergence of attention is enough for them to plow into a man — whose car had stalled just down the road — and completely transform their New Year plans.

Irresponsibly the two decide to toss the body in the trunk in an effort to avoid a DUI related crime. We spend the remainder of the film in their opulent home,  which is undergoing renovations– a money pit indeed, but a source of anguish and continued antagonism between Jeff and Lindsey. Jeff, a failed baseball player who succumbed to injury, and struggles to maintain a job, is clearly tormented by his inability to provide his fair share. Lindsey is the primary breadwinner, and as expected, their financial woes are exacerbated and spoiled by Jeff’s meager contribution and their seemingly endless home expenses.  

The couple’s misfortune is anything but over, in fact, when one expects safety and comfort in the home, it quickly reminds them that this place is a well of bad luck. Lindsey’s firecracker of a sister Hannah (Perla Haney-Jardine) is holed up in their abode, on the run from some trouble, and a thorn on the side of everyone. It doesn’t take too long for the cops to show and begin snooping around about the dead man, who, as it turns out, was headed to the couple’s home, and wasn’t actually dead yet when he was haphazardly left in the garage.

Alex Essoe as ‘Lindsey’

Midnighters is riddled with grand moments and scenes, but at times, the overall story seems to lack in heft and profundity. However, this doesn’t mean that Midnighters should be missed. The moments in the film that do work, like the aforementioned scene with the cops, makes for exciting and tense action– director Julius Ramsay stretches out the moment down to the very edge of believability before pulling away and continuing with the rest of the film. Another scene, presented later on, when a “detective” Smith (Ward Horton) shows up, we’re instantly clued in on Smith’s thin facade, and gleefully await for the inevitable.

There is some nice direction here from the editor and director of a few episodes from the hit AMC show The Walking Dead, however, what really stands out in the film are the performances commanded by the director. In the scene illustrated above, Horton plays Smith with such devilish charisma that you can’t help but fall for his charm despite the prescience that this is not going to end well for our main players. Simply put, Ward Horton steals the show with a brisk and off-the-wall performance that leaves one yearning for more. Essoe and McTee play off each other rather well as their tension and problems mount, with the director constantly dropping a series of maladies for them to sort out.

Dylan McTee as ‘Jeff’

Midnighters stands out as a (mostly) single location thriller that channels Hitchcockian tropes, and oddly enough pulls some cues from old haunted house flicks like The Old Dark House. This neo-noir is visually abrasive, well-acted, and unexpected; Alston Ramsey’s script is tough and twisty; it’s definitely worth your time.

Check out the trailer below. Midnighters is out March 2, 2018 in theaters, VOD, and Digital HD from IFC Midnight. Midnighters premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival 2017.

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