Director: Julius Ramsay
Writer: Alston Ramsay
Starring: Alex Essoe, Perla Haney-Jardine, Dylan McTee, Ward Horton, Andrew Rothenberg, Joseph Anderson, K.C. Faldasz
They’re counting down to midnight on New Year's Eve and a pretty young woman searches in vain for her husband on a crowded dance floor. She finds him outside, alone with thoughts, and with a kiss he promises her that the new year will be a new beginning.
Life has been tough for Lindsey (Alex Essoe) and Jeff Pittman (Dylan McTee), their marriage has been under strain from a host of financial difficulties. Jeff is a failed athlete, and Lindsay has been the sole breadwinner. They have moved from the city to small-town New England and bought an old house out in the woods in need of renovation. Lindsey’s dead-end job at a local bank is the only thing keeping their heads above financial water.
To compound their misfortunes, Jeff knocks down a pedestrian on dark country road on the couple’s drive home from the New Year celebrations. As there is no phone signal, the couple drag the broken man into the back of their car where he stops breathing. Panicking because both of them are over the legal drinking limit, Jeff convinces a reluctant Lindsey to take the man back to their house instead of to a hospital, so they have time to formulate a plausible plan.
Lindsey’s wild-child younger sister Hannah (Perla Haney-Jardine), arrives back at the house late, hears a noise in the garage and finds that the man in the back of the car isn’t quite as dead as he seemed. Gunshots are fired and the already grievous situation is made even messier.
The couple have to deal with a hysterical Hannah and think up a story for the police, who they know will be coming around, as a crucial piece of evidence was left at the scene of the accident. They decide to clean up the blood and mess and hide the bullet-riddled body.
The mystery deepens regarding the dead man, as a search of his pockets revealed that he wasn’t just in the wrong place at the wrong time - he was on his way to Jeff and Lindsey’s house, and no one seems to know why.
A morning visit by local cops (Andrew Rothenberg and Joseph Anderson) reveals a side to Lindsay which can remain cool under pressure, and the couple manage to deflect suspicion, at least for a while, giving them time to further cover their tracks.
Confessions of Hannah’s recent past come trickling out, and she goes off in the car to collect some further evidence with her hostile brother-in-law, while big sister Lindsay holds the fort.
In their absence, clean-cut, chatty ‘Detective Smith’ (Ward Horton) appears at the door with further questions. Lindsay soon discovers he is no detective, rather, he’s someone with a personal interest in the accident victim and a certain claim ticket which is in sister Hannah’s possession. Smith is a smiling psycho whose enthusiastic sadism, combined with the ‘rambling old house in the woods’ scenario, push this thriller into horror territory.
Midnighters, the debut feature of TV editor-director Julius Ramsay and his writer brother Alston, escalates from there, with grievous bodily harm being suffered by pretty much everyone concerned. This might not entirely be a surprise, as Ramsay has edited and directed episodes of The Walking Dead amongst other thrillers.
The initial setup for Midnighters is fairly familiar, but this crime-thriller/horror soon becomes entangled in a Hitchcockian web of suspense and reversals of fortune, punctuated by bursts of visceral violence.
With everyone’s secrets gradually being revealed, the film manages to be satisfyingly twisty, and although very well acted, the characters are not given enough depth for their dynamics to be entirely engaging. The marital bond between Lindsay and Jeff should have given an emotional core to the story, but as he and sister Hannah remain unreliable and annoying, it is the scenes with the ever-more-feisty Lindsay and scheming psycho Smith that stand out.
As is the case with most horror/thriller movies, the viewer must suspend disbelief in the interest of enjoying this kind of escapist entertainment. If one overlooks the improbabilities, Midnighters has some top-notch thrills to offer.
Viewed at the Raindance Festival 2017
Ren Zelen | Twitter: @RenZelen