It’s midnight. Lindsey (Alex Essoe) is ringing in the new year alone, her eyes scan the dimly-lit party for her husband who’s outside kissing a cigarette when the clock strikes twelve. This isn’t a great way to start the coming year, and serves as an omen for their relationship.
When a marriage is in trouble, stress brings every existing problem to a nasty head. Jeff (Dylan McTee) and Lindsey’s problems aren’t anything new; financial worries and a cold sex life are heavy contributors to their failing marriage. But a marriage is made up of two separate people with their own issues and as it turns out, Lindsey and Jeff have many. It’s these issues that will be exploited in the events that follow.
When the couple fatally hit a man with their vehicle, marital woes take a backseat. That is, until it’s filled by his bloody corpse. A little tipsy and fully panicked, Jeff and Lindsey drive home to sober up and think about what to do next. As expected, things don’t go to plan and they find themselves fighting for their lives.
Midnighters isn’t a story about how a strong couple can overcome violent adversity. This is the kind of home invasion movie where the foundations of that home are particularly weak. Besides their relationship troubles, the home is under construction, lending an icy backdrop to their already tense lives. Perla Haney-Jardine plays the wild card as Hannah, Lindsey’s younger sister who’s crashing with her while she gets over a particularly rough breakup. Haney-Jardine is most recognizable as young B.B in Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. 2, or as but she’s grown up and so has her talent. Hannah’s presence in the home only adds to the deceit as she serves as a kind of meddling messenger.
The story is intriguing as it unravels, but sometimes trips over its own feet for all its weaves and tangles. Most of the darkness in Midnighters is more about obscuring the truth than unsettling or disturbing its audience, though it could have done well with a little more of both. While it’s easy to question everyone’s motives, the movie never really has us question who the real victim is. All around, the villains and their connections are weak. People might not be who they say they are, but that’s not much of a surprise; everyone has secrets. In almost every case, the darker the better.
What’s more interesting is the question Midnighters inspires. Could the average married couple really go this far? Throughout the ordeal, Jeff and Lindsey are both driven to sadistic acts that are frighteningly out of character – acts they commit together as a team, a bastardization of the devotion of marriage. They’ve grown apart and changed as people, and somehow only their complicity in their crimes is what can bring them together.
The film is full of transformation. Though Lindsey showed empathy for the man they initially hit with their car, by the end of the film she’s gone beyond revenge to cruelty. Jeff is only displaying an exaggerated form of himself, releasing the person he is inside. The flaws in their relationship and in themselves are exacerbated by what they endure and by what they force others to endure.
Essoe isn’t as stretched as her Starry Eyes role, but she’s still the strongest performer of the three and scenes without her suffer. As Lindsey she speaks volumes with her looks, serving and suffering psychological and physical abuse. A handful of squeamish scenes round out the intrigue but gorehounds might be left wanting. Julius Ramsay’s feature-length debut is promising for the future, and his experience in both The Walking Dead and the Scream and Outcast horror TV series lend hope that soon he’ll be able to scare us. He’s just gotta go deeper, darker, and meaner and find a full cast who are willing to do the same.
In Theaters and Available On Demand And Digital HD March 2, 2018