Happy New Year, Haddonfield readers! Yes, I am aware that we’re nearly into March, but IFC’s sleek new thriller Midnighters, a New Year’s themed movie about good people (some bad) doing bad things, reminds me that welcoming a new year does not always mean welcoming a new start; unless of course it is your first time murdering complete strangers. That is the oversimplified summation of Julius and Alston Ramsays’ – Director and Writer, respectively – complicated and highly entertaining film about a young couple’s unfortunate car accident descending into a rudimentary murder scheme.
After celebrating New Year’s Eve in town, Lindsey and Jeff, a young married couple seemingly normal and crazy in love, are driving home on a dark, secluded road when they suddenly hit a man, violently knocking him from windshield to earth. Bloody but still alive, the man is unresponsive, as Jeff and Lindsey try calling the police to no avail – ever get a cellphone signal in the middle of nowhere? Jeff and Lindsey, hellbent on doing the right thing, place the man in the backseat and speed their way towards town, only to have the stranger die within seconds, leaving the frightened couple on a metaphorical fork in the road: Do we continue on and alert the authorities, or do we hide this potential life-altering moment? Lindsey has a moment of clarity, reminding Jeff that the NYE alcohol is still in their blood, and that the justice system would be unkind to their efforts. The fork in the road is now a knife, and they will start a path that becomes a spectacle of blood and betrayal.
Once home, Jeff and Lindsey attempt to piece together a story. What is already naïve and haphazardly, their “scheme” gets derailed when they realize the car’s license plate is missing, likely damaged from the impact and still in the middle of the road. Jeff races back to find it, but to his surprise (and mine!), police lights are glaring and 5-0 is scouting the location.
Meanwhile, a new character, Lindsey’s sister Hannah, enters the home after her own celebration, only to find the bloody victim alive and in the throes of a murderous rampage. Jeff gets home just in time to officially kill the stranger, forever transforming their involuntary manslaughter to first-degree murder. Later and in a strange twist, Jeff checks the man for identification only to find a note that contains their home address. Perplexed, the small family becomes increasingly paranoid, and as the saying goes, a bad situation just gets worse.
As political aphorisms remind us, it’s not the crime that is worse, but the cover up. And what a messy cover up this is. The cops come and suspect something is amiss. The three haven’t concocted anything remotely believable, but manage to skirt the cops…for now.
It isn’t until a detective named appropriately as Smith, played impeccably by Ward Horton, snoops for more information that leaves Lindsey scared and frankly uncomfortable. With the countenance of an insurance salesman and the charisma of a gold-medal Olympian, Horton steals the show with a performance that could make any unsuspecting victim question their own motivations: Is this man going to kill me or fuck me?
Any reasonable viewer would recognize that Smith is a wolf in sheep’s clothes, and his motivations are driven by plot twist after plot twist that is a fun thrill ride for viewers. The insertion of Smith adds a layer of chaos that makes Midnighters a far more nuanced horror film in a lexicon of “Do we hide the evidence?” movie, a la I Know What You Did Last Summer. The film’s climax also reveals the strained relationships between Lindsey, Jeff, and Hannah, offering viewers a genuine, realistic perspective on familial dysfunction compounded by a fantastical murderous scheme.
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Eric Dinsmore | Twitter: @dinsmorality