Midnight Special (2016)

Starring: Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Jaeden Lieberher, Adam Driver, Sam Shephard, Bill Camp

Directed by: Jeff Nichols

Rating: 1 2 3 and a half

I really liked Mud, Jeff Nichols' elegiac coming of age story set on the banks of the Mississippi, but was a little surprised to discover he was following it up with... sci-fi road movie…?

Jaeden Lieberher as Alton in Jeff Nichols' Midnight Special

And yet Midnight Special somehow contrives to be both very different to Mud and... kinda the same. For starters, both exist in a timeless Southern world unburdened by excess technology. Calls are made from pay phones, and nobody Googles 'how to deal with a strange boy with weird, scary powers'. And at heart, beyond the (mostly low-fi) SFX, it's about a young boy coming to terms with who he is, though for Alton Myers this is a very different discovery to that made by Mud's Ellis.

Alton (Jaeden Lieberher – alternately creepy and cute) has been raised within the closed ranks of 'The Ranch', a cult-like religious community who see him as their saviour. As the movie opens he is on the run, ostensibly kidnapped, although we quickly realise this is not the case. The Ranch wants him back, the FBI want him in custody, clever good guy Paul Sevier (Adam Driver) wants to understand him (you can tell he's a clever good guy bevause his suit is messy and he carries around a stack of books and makes notes with a clicky biro). But dad Roy (Michael Shannon), staunch, level-headed friend Lucas (Joel Edgeton) and mother Sarah (Kirsten Dunst) just want him to be who he has to be. For just as Alton must learn to find his place, so, hard as it may be, they must learn to help him; at the end of the day they are simply parents trying to do the best for their fragile, special child.

Joel Edgerton, Michael Shannon, Kirsten Dunst and Jaeden Lieberher in Midnight Speical

Mostly graceful and moving, the thoughtful pace is occasionally startled by unexpected violence. But while at times Midnight Special recalls Kathryn Bigelow's awesome vampire road movie Near Dark – echoing its obsession with blacking out motel windows, and its central protagonists' uplifting emergence from darkness into light – it's closest in tone to the glowing warmth of those touchstones of gentle, beautiful, life-affirming sci-fi, Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind and ET.

Okay so sometimes the effects look a little hokey (although you could argue it's all part of the film's 1970s-ish charm) and it can be a little too slow at times, but all in all Midnight Special is an encounter you won't want to miss.

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