Judge Daryl Loomis burns easily.
Everybody's got their thing.
Anybody who states that vampire movies are all dried up needs to watch Midnight Son. Sure, garlic and cross-fearing Draculas may be overplayed, but this debut feature from director Scott Lebrecht does something very different. Instead of some old Austrian guy chasing around an undead Romanian prince, he gives us a gritty urban landscape and a romance while getting to the lonely heart of the vampire myth and, honestly, I don't know the last time I was this impressed.
Facts of the Case
Jacob (Zak Kilberg, Zombie Strippers) has a skin condition that keeps him from going into the sun, lest it burn him to death. More than that, no matter how much he eats, he remains famished. He works night security and lives in solitude in a basement apartment but, one night, he meets Mary (Maya Parish, Leeches!) outside of a club. They hit it off and it seems like his life might be making a turn. It is, but not in the way he thinks. While kissing Maya, who is a coke addict, she gets a bloody nose and, as the blood drains into his mouth, he makes a grotesque realization. He's no longer hungry and, instead, only has taste for human blood. Soon, people are dying and Jacob starts waking up in strange places with no memory. He can't tell Mary, but if he loves her, how can he protect her from his insatiable urges?
This might sound hyperbolic, but I haven't been this blown away by a microbudget horror film since Larry Fessenden's 1995 alcoholic vampire classic, Habit. For me, that's a big compliment, and it's no coincidence that the two films tell similar stories, almost the converse of one another. Habit describes a marginalized alcoholic meeting a woman who drags him into her affliction and deeper into his addiction, separating him from his old life and destroying him. Midnight Son, on the other hand, describes a man completely separated from society meeting a woman who helps him to both realize and accept his affliction as part of himself. The big difference between the two is that, where Habit is an extremely dour examination of the human condition, Midnight Son describes the emboldening power of companionship to get out from under the solitude of humanity.
How often has one had the opportunity to discuss genuinely touching moments in a horror film? Rarely, for sure, if ever, but that's what we're looking at here. This is as much a romance as a horror movie and both work in concert for a really interesting look at loneliness and addiction through the lens of a vampire realizing his true nature. At first, there's no indication of Jacob's affliction, though there's obviously something different about him.
Two people make him understand. First, there's Mary, who has her own secrets that that she inadvertently reveals through her nosebleed. When he tastes human blood, he feels very strange but, soon, he feels better than he's felt in his entire life. Now, though, he has the hunger and nothing else will suffice. That brings him to a hospital, where he's caught trying to break into the biohazard bin by Marcus (Joe D. Jonz, Next Day Air), an orderly who agrees to hook Jacob up with the good stuff, sending him down the grisly path we witness as the film moves along.
The plotting is much more subtle than fans are used to, which might lead some to label the film slow. It moves at a deliberate pace, no doubt, but there are a lot of things at play that Lebrecht has to balance and, instead of rushing through things, he allows them all time to breath. It's especially effective given that he does it all in fewer than 90 minutes and still leaves time for some equally effective gore. There isn't a huge body count, but each of the kill scenes is good and bloody, along with a clever after effect that we don't find out about until late in the movie.
I absolutely appreciate the plot of Midnight Son, but the performances and production are what make it so good. The small cast is universally fantastic, and includes appearances from a couple of great character actors: Tracey Walter (Repo Man) and Larry Cedar (C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud). The heart of the movie is in the brilliant chemistry between Parish and Kilberg, who bring the love story to life in a realistically awkward, sweet way. Vampire and Cokehead or not, they make you want the love story to work. Counterpointing them is Jonz, who is one of the strangest and most charming villains in recent memory. He throws out these (apparently ad-libbed) one-liners that get a laugh every single time.
Usually, you have to forgive certain things like performance and production value in a microbudget movie for the sake of the good idea behind it, but not only is the acting fantastic, Lebrecht shows he is a real talent behind the camera. A former effects artist at ILM, the CG looks understandably strong, but there are good things everywhere, from the (almost entirely natural) lighting to the shooting to the overall vision has the look of a veteran director, and this is only his debut. I can't wait to see what's next from him, his crew, and the cast. The absolutely put their best foot forward with Midnight Son and I salute them. I want to see more horror like this, and soon.
From Image Entertainment, Midnight Son receives a decent DVD release. The standard definition 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer looks good, but is nothing special. Black levels aren't as deep as they could be and it's a little muddy at times, but it looks fine overall. The Dolby 5.1 Surround mix is similar, with clear dialogue and music, but nothing that will stick with you. The extras, though, are pretty valuable. A set of interviews are informative and deleted scenes that, while unnecessary to the picture, are interesting from a character standpoint. The commentary, though, is excellent. Featuring Lebrecht, Kilberg, Parish, and Jonz, they go in depth about the production and, instead of the self-congratulations that we so often see, they have a fairly high level discussion about the struggles of making a horror movie without any money. It's definitely worth listening to for any young filmmaker.
I could gush on all day about Midnight Son, but I'll quit it. I didn't expect to fall so deeply in love with this movie, but that's the beauty of independent horror. Almost everything that gets a large market release is total garbage and, with the proliferation of the vampire trash audiences have been forced to accept, I understand how one could assume that there's nothing left to say in the genre. Scott Lebrecht says a whole lot, though, and I want to personally thank him for Midnight Son; a grisly but moving example of what can be created with no money, a great idea, and people who care about the project. Well done, sir.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
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