Midnight Son was a remarkable find, especially considering that I fished it out of the bargain bin for 2 Euros. It is a quiet little film, a study of a character, of a personal crisis, and of a relationship.
Jacob Gray is a pale young man suffering from a severe sun allergy. He lives in a basement-level flat with covered windows, and in accordance with his condition he works the night-shift as a security guard. His condition and his work make him quite lonely, and he spends his spare time locked in his flat, painting. As a far as we can tell, he exclusively paints sunsets, expressing a longing for something he is not able to enjoy in real life. That longing is visible in his paintings, which are – in a way – larger than life.
Recently, his health has started to deteriorate. He fainted at work, and in spite of the fact that he has started to binge-eat he always feels hungry and his doctor tells him he is malnourished.
Still, 24-year-old Jacob also tries to have a bit of a social life in the few night-time hours that are not taken up by his job, even though he is not exactly the type that is the centre of any party and he seems to have difficulties enjoying himself. On one such night he meets Mary, who is working one of the many odd-jobs she needs to make ends meet. They feel connected, but their attempts at a relationship are doomed for various reasons – mostly to do with the fact that they are to a certain degree both “damaged goods”. Mary has just come out of an unpleasant relationship and has a bit of a drug-habit; while Jacob has started to develop further unexplainable symptoms, although he has discovered that consuming animal blood makes him feel better and improves his health.
Mary seems like an erstwhile starry-eyed girl who has had too much disillusionment in her life. She may still have dreams, but she does not dare to believe in them anymore. With Mary and Jacob alternately attracting each other and pushing each other away like an ill-fated pair of magnets, and with Jacob’s physical and mental health deteriorating, things slowly begin to spiral out of control.
Midnight Son is the feature-film debut of writer/director Scott Leberecht, who usually makes a living in the world of Visual Effects. From his filmography I drew the conclusion that he has in the past worked for Industrial Light & Magic, and more recently for Rhythm & Hues. After the much-publicised demise of the latter in 2013, he made a documentary short about the crisis in the VFX industry, called Life After Pi.
A small budget notwithstanding, his industry connections enabled Leberecht to win Blair Witch director Eduardo Sanchez as producer for Midnight Son and in turn secure funds and support for post-production.
Interestingly for the directorial debut of a VFX-guy, Midnight Son contains very little obvious, flashy VFX. The practical aspects are much more prominent, including burn scars and considerable quantities of blood. The film is certainly gory, but this is not a showy, wallowing kind of gore, it is much more the type of gore that comes with a certain “medical realism”.
That style fits nicely with the strong body-horror elements that characterise Jacob’s reaction to his condition. Zak Kilberg does an outstanding job in this role, especially in those quieter solo-scenes which must be difficult for any actor. Maya Parish does an equally great job as Mary. The two actors develop a chemistry that allows each of them to benefit from the other’s performance.
The main supporting actors, Jo D. Jonz and Arlen Escarpeta, are also very good; and Leberecht was able to get veteran actors like Larry Cedar, Tracey Walter, Kevin McCorkle, and Juanita Jennings for the smaller supporting roles. But the story focuses on Jacob and Mary, and it is the acting of Kilberg and Parish that has to carry the film.
Since this is more of a character study, the plot is a bit small; but not too small for a film with a net running time of just over 81 minutes. The writing is generally very good. Only very occasionally does the desire to create a dialogue that sounds as natural as possible create forced lines that sound slightly un-natural.
Because of its tone and subject matter, the story of Midnight Son develops slowly, almost hesitantly. But it is – in its own, slow way – a well-paced story.
The score music and soundtrack are very fitting. There are many scenes in which Leberecht decided to go completely without a score, and even though I do like the score I wish he had made that decision in one or two additional scenes. The film is also very strong in its use of sounds, like pulsing blood, for example, but also the general sounds of the city. And the city at night-time is also transported well in the use of colours, of dark and pasty, grey and beige. Jacob’s surname was surely not chosen by coincidence. Occasional spots of colour, like Jacob’s paintings, are nicely emphasising the general bleakness.
Although there are certain neo-noir vibes, Midnight Son’s tone, for me, is mainly that of body-horror. But body-horror aside, the feel, the characters, and the environment of this slow-paced, contemplative story are rather reminiscent of La Peau Blanche and of Vampyrer. But Midnight Son definitely feels more “complete” than that latter Swedish film.
I would rate this film at 7.5 to 8 out of 10, and can strongly recommend it for people looking for a different kind of vampire film.