The Midnight Man (2016) (Review)

So even though it hasn’t received much press or media attention, and apparently even though it was released recently it appears a good portion of genre fans have still yet to see it. I personally have been looking forward to this movie and awaiting it’s release. The concept sounds intriguing – a group of young friends find an old game in the main protagonist’s attic that summons a creature known as “The Midnight Man”, who uses your worst fears against you to torment and kill you. Plus, it’s worth a mentioning that two of the “stars” as they are billed are horror icons Robert Englund and Lin Shaye.

The movie begins in 1954 showing the origins of the game first played by young children who appear roughly 10-11 years old, one in particular revealed soon after to be the main protagonist’s grandmother. These are young children, clearly frightened beyond belief and hoping to stay alive as the game is nearing its end. This is the introduction to the movie, and does not hold back. Without any specific spoilers, let’s just say this movie immediately bucks the new taboo trend that even in horror movies children dying is off limits – especially on screen. Not this movie. Just like good late 80’s horror such as The Blob and Maximum Overdrive, that is certainly not the case here. Certain children meet a gruesome end and on screen at that. Kudos to director Travis Zariwny in what appears to be only the second movie he has written AND directed. He did direct the pretty awful remake of Cabin Fever which was basically a shot for shot (and quite unnecessary) remake with shittier actors and actresses that was a total bomb to critics and audiences alike.

 

Flash forward to present day. Alex is back from college, and taking care of her sick old grandma (one of the survivors of the game shown during the 1954 opening of the film) who suffers from dementia and apparently severe mental issues stemming from her childhood encounter with The Midnight Man. Grandma still lives in the same big old house (which later the always charismatic Robert Englund as the town doctor describes to his colleague as a beautiful mansion, inhabited by a family with old money and more sorrow than any should endure), and she hasn’t left her room in a couple of years. Alex is immediately depicted as an intelligent young girl, not easily frightened and pretty resourceful. She calls her childhood friend Miles over to hang out who she hasn’t seen in a while. Miles finally arrives and finds Alex in the attic searching through her grandfathers old travel chest in attempt to find a silver handheld mirror her grandmother asked her to “fetch” for her. (During the previous encounter and request from grandma, Lin Shaye proves that against stereotype as a 74 year old woman she not only steals all the scenes she’s in, but that she is indeed a worthy addition to any horror movie and reasonably so).While digging through this chest they find a shoebox wrapped up that looks like it is not meant to be opened, but of course they do it anyway. Inside are the contents are instructions to the game. Once they dump everything out, they are startled by grandma who is mysteriously standing behind them who screams “NO!!! YOU OPENED THE GAME!!!” is the most disturbing and troubled way possible, before fainting.

Alex and Miles carry her back to her room and summon the doctor (Robert Englund). After he assures them she will be fine, he leaves. They are trying to figure out what she meant, so they return to the game. The instructions are only half there, with the other half torn out and seemingly missing. All that remains are the first few steps to invite The Midnight Man and begin the “game”. Naturally, they do. This is where the movie gets going and introduces our big bad for the duration. Once they begin, another friend Kelly shows up and joins in on the game thinking it’s just an urban legend from creepypasta and figures since they have never heard of him and she has that she can be of assistance.

As they inevitably meet The Midnight Man once their candles are blown out and unable to be relit in 10 seconds or less (one of the rules), they each meet The Midnight Man separately who let’s them know he is indeed real. He reveals each of their deepest fear buried in the furthest point of their subconscious mind, gives them a small taste of it and let’s them know the game is on and next time they wont survive. What follows now is a game of cat and mouse where our group is forced to continue moving constantly to avoid The Midnight Man who is basically playing a morbid version of hide and seek with them. They cannot leave the house, cannot quit the game, and each have a candle that if goes out has to be relit in 10 seconds or less. If this last feat is not accomplished, they must surround themselves in a circle of salt for protection until the candle can be relit.
After the doctor returns to check on Alex and her Grandmother, he realizes they are playing the game and let’s them know he is well aware and that The Midnight Man is indeed real (which they already know), and that he also does NOT like to lose. So much so that he tells them he “bends the rules” and basically cheats by any means to execute and take the souls of his victims along with their dead bodies. He also let’s them know that Grandma (Lin Shaye) is not who she seems and has a very sordid past of extremely questionable behavior and judgment. He decides he’s had enough of The Midnight Man and all his victims, and decides to help our group of young ragtag survivors.

Now again without giving away any spoilers, I will say this. What I enjoyed about The Midnight Man was that it felt like a breath of fresh air in a very muddy, often unoriginal and genre that pumps out shitty remake after shitty remake, or movies that literally make you scratch your head and wonder “who the fuck actually came up with this idea and terrible script, but more so what black magic did they use to convince someone to actually think it was good enough to finance?”. Original horror movies are few and far in between, especially decent to relatively good ones (and from a new inexperienced director). The cinematography is great, and although it was made on a relatively modest budget they did an amazing job stretching it and making it look like it was more expensive that it was. Now while Im not a big fan of CGI and how over used it is (especially in horror movies), it was very well done and only used for our antagonist.

Which now brings me to The Midnight Man himself. In a genre filled with so many villains, alive, dead, supernatural beings, demons, monsters and more – it’s rare to see a new villain that is original and well designed. The Midnight Man looks very convincing; he’s a gigantic and a larger than life sinister presence. As he stalks our group, he talks quite a bit (could have actually done with a little less dialog from him seeing as when building on atmosphere and suspense that sometimes “less is more”) , and sure takes a morbid joy in his twisted game of hunting to kill. Considering he was mostly CGI in a lot of scenes, it still worked. It was not overbearing or pathetic looking. His design was well done. What I also liked was that they gave him a personality and slight back story. When taunting his victims, he has an array of masks to put over his shapeless face to express what he’s feeling at that time – from sad, to morbidly happy and ecstatic, being pissed off and to being downright terrifying. As for the masks, that was something I didn’t expect and haven’t seen before which gave this demonic entity a little more personality. So once again props to the writer and director Travis Zariwny for that small and subtle attribute and characteristic that worked well and was cleverly unique.

All in all, the movie is far from a masterpiece but definitely was much better than I expected it to be. Like all horror movies you naturally have to suspend your disbelief in many plot points but there are so many more terrible horror flicks that you don’t have to suspend it constantly. The 3 young protagonists are played well, and go against the modern day grain of horror movies by luckily escaping clichéd characters, situations and poorly made decisions.

All they have to do now is follow the rules, and make it to 3:33 A.M. to ensure victory and salvage their bodies and soul, along with those they care about. Clearly this is not an easy task as The Midnight Man stalks them one by, they cannot leave the house because they will be killed immediately in the most gruesome of ways, and he loves bending the rules to suit his ego and success rate. Our protagonists are determined to win at all costs, outsmart The Midnight Man and make it long enough to end the game.

Overall, I went into this movie expecting the absolute worst and was more than pleasantly surprised. It is not easy to craft a good monster or villain, let one alone that could possibly be an icon in the future if this turns into a franchise. While not in the same league as other horror icons such as Michael Myers, Freddy Kruger, Jason Vorhees, Pennywise and mores. In fact, the last original horror icon I can recall is Victor Crowley from the Hatchet series. I feel the same about The Collector from the same title, and the sequel The Collection.I remember reading something not that long ago that there is a sequel (or 2) planned and will go into pre-production given the performance it has and the money it makes. I for one would definitely be interested in seeing that. I also think about The Conjuring franchise. That movie and its sequel have already spawned two Annabelle solo movies, and production is almost completed on the latest spinoff titled “The Nun” who terrorized Lauren Warren in the previous installment. Also, rumor has it they are also making another spinoff (this time courtesy of The Conjuring 2 about and called The Crooked Man who scared the living shit out of Ed and Lorraine Warren’s young son. As a matter of fact, that will be the 5th of 6 installments of the franchise seeing as The Conjuring 3 has already entered pre-production and was green lit roughly about a year after The Conjuring 2 performed above expectations.

If you are looking for decent horror movie, and are expecting the absolute worst based on many factors – I would recommend you give it a shot. It was far from amazing, but at the same time far off from being one of the worst. Original, suspenseful, and with a running time of about an hour and a half you can certainly do worse than escaping reality by watching this. Enjoy folks!