From intriguingly enigmatic opening to mind-blowing close, writer-director Jeff Nichols’ genre-bending chase thriller Midnight Special takes us on a strange but rewarding trip. Nichols takes compass readings from the 1980s sci-fi of Spielberg and Carpenter, as well as from more recent low-fi sci-fi movies, but the course he charts is all his own.
The journey starts with a father snatching his young son from a fundamentalist cult that regards the boy as its prophet. Michael Shannon plays the father, Roy, displaying the same bug-eyed intensity he brought to his roles in Nichols’ previous films, Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter and Mud. Jaeden Lieberher, Bill Murray’s foil in St Vincent, plays the boy, Alton.
Aided by Roy’s doggedly loyal friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton), the pair take urgent flight down the backroads of Texas, pursued by men dispatched by the cult and by the FBI, who have taken an interest in the strange powers the boy appears to possess. Also caught up in the chase are Alton’s mother, Sarah (Kirsten Dunst), and NSA analyst Paul Sevier (Adam Driver), a more sympathetic figure than the other pursuers and one with considerably more insight into the weirdness going on.
And things do get very weird. But what grounds the movie – and makes it so involving and gripping – is the fervent bond between father and son and the vivid naturalism of the acting. The metaphysical flights the story takes towards the end may prove a strain, but even sceptics will find Shannon and his co-stars so emotionally credible that they will want to go the distance all the same.
Certificate 12A. Runtime 112 mins. Director Jeff Nichols