Sunday, September 18, 2011

MIFFF Review: 'Midnight Son'

Almost immediately director Scott Leberecht’s new horror film “Midnight Son” calls to mind George Romero’s 1976 movie “Martin”. Both are ostensibly vampire movies, but vampire movies that tweak the formula and refuse to follow conventions. Gone are the gothic, overdramatic affectations that have permeated the genre for years, and let’s put it this way, this vampire certainly doesn’t sparkle or glint like a diamond in the sun.

In fact, Jacob (Zak Kilberg) can’t go outside in the daytime at all. He has a skin condition that causes him to burn—literally burn, like lighter fluid and a match—when exposed to direct sunlight. His condition has led him to a sad, lonely, isolated life where he works nights as a security guard in a high-rise office building, and spends his days sequestered in his heavily curtained basement apartment painting portraits of a sunset he can never see.

As Jacob’s 25th birthday approaches he goes through a rapid series of physical changes. Out of nowhere an insatiable, all consuming hunger wracks his body. No matter how much food he crams down his throat his malnourished form screams at him. All that will satisfy these new cravings is blood. At first the leavings from the steak he cooks for dinner will fit the bill, then Styrofoam take-out containers procured from the local late-night butcher. But his hunger eventually leads him to more and more desperate measures, like dumpster diving in the biomedical waste receptacle behind a hospital. In the end only human blood will do. I have some friends who work in public health who would be shocked and appalled at the idea of drinking strange blood found in the garbage. They’d squirm in their seats and say something like, “Has this guy never heard of blood-born pathogens?”

Meeting Mary (Maya Parish), a coked-out cigarette girl, only complicates things further. I’m not sure I could date someone who put a glow-stick necklace on my the first time we meet, but Jacob doesn’t have a lot of other options, so… For the first time in his life Jacob connects with someone, but with his new appetites, and increasingly dark and violent, vampirish dreams and hallucinations that are frighteningly real, it is difficult to let her in. Their relationship is complicated by things like Jacob checking out Mary’s veins and her mistaking this for him making a move. What is he? What is he becoming? And why is the hottest thing he’s ever seen all of a sudden a cocaine nosebleed?

Is Jacob really a vampire? Is he some sort of gestating monster, or is he really just a sick, lonely kid? This is the question at the center of “Midnight Son”, the question you and the film try to answer. While the characters that populate the movie are aware of vampires, “Midnight Son” never becomes a riff or commentary on ‘vampires’ as a genre, though there is one great moment where Jacob attempts to confirm or deny some of the more prominent myths from generations of vampire lore.

“Midnight Son” is a refreshing spin on a family of film that, let’s be honest here for a moment, is getting played out and oversaturated. Seriously, vampire nonsense is everywhere, what with “True Blood” and “Twilight” and god knows how many others. Leberecht’s film is dark and subtle. It is low budget, but also low key, relying on character, performance, and story rather than angst-ridden stares, sex, and heaving, alabaster bosoms. Kilberg and Parish wear their wounds openly, but Jacob and Mary can only falter when they try to fix each other. How can they repair anyone else when they can’t even begin to mend themselves? The film takes an increasingly dark path as Jacob’s hunger grows more and more powerful, and after he meets Marcus (Jo D. Jonz), a surprisingly obliging hospital orderly, the violence ratchets up.

The Jacob-is-a-really-talented-painter thread is tired and a waste of time. It’s obvious and been done before, and, if you absolutely must go this route, the art better actually be good. And Jacob’s is not. His paintings are boring, generic bullshit sunsets. Like Bob Ross, happy-little-forest-creatures-in-happy-little-trees style things you would find at a garage sale or community center craft fair. Luckily this is the only spot where the pace bogs down in “Midnight Son”, and the rest of the film flows even and smooth.

Aside from this one misstep, “Midnight Son” cleverly blends horror, romance, drama, and some good old-fashioned blood splatter. It’s a genuinely spooky, wholly engrossing film that takes a well-trod genre archetype and does something unique and entertaining with it. Fans of good, cerebral horror should definitely check out “Midnight Son” if you get the chance. It is one of the best independent horror films in recent memory. It just screened at the Maelstrom International Fantastic Film Fest in Seattle, and you can go to the official website and rattle some cages to get it to your area.

No comments: