Studio: Rustic Films
Director: Jeremy Gardner, Christian Stella
Writer: Jeremy Gardner
Producer: David Lawson Jr., Aaron Moorhead, Justin Benson, Arvind Harinath
Stars: Jeremy Gardner, Brea Grant, Henry Zebrowski, Justin Benson, Ashley Song, Nicola Masciotra, Taylor Zaudtke
In the wake of his girlfriend¡¯s unexpected disappearance, a troubled man comes to believe an unknown creature stalks outside his house at night.
NOTE: ¡°After Midnight¡± was previously titled ¡°Something Else.¡±
After ten years together, Hank assumed everything was copacetic between he and his girlfriend Abby. They co-managed a rural dive bar. They shared a remote home four hours outside of Miami. When Hank and Abby weren¡¯t cutely coupling over bad humor and worse wine, they hosted parties attended by Hank¡¯s barfly buddy Wade and Abby¡¯s police officer brother Shane.
Then one morning, Hank woke to a cryptic note. ¡°I had to go away for a while. I¡¯m sorry. I love you,¡± wrote Abby. With Abby not returning his voicemails, and with no clue where she went or why, Hank suddenly finds himself in a lonely lurch.
The only thing stranger than Abby¡¯s inexplicable disappearance is the front door building up equally inexplicable claw marks. Every night since Abby vanished, something stalking outside has seemingly been trying to get in the house. Convinced it¡¯s a creature, Hank takes to firing blindly with a shotgun that¡¯s done almost as much damage to his porch.
Wade and Shane are rightfully concerned for their friend. It¡¯s bad enough Hank wallows deep in depressing doldrums that force him to reexamine his relationship. Being driven toward madness by a monster that may not exist makes matters worse.
Purely on pedigree, ¡°After Midnight¡± ticks all the right boxes for low-key indie appeal. Alongside Christian Stella in one of two director chairs sits Jeremy Gardner. Gardner previously helmed ¡°The Battery¡± (review here), whose inventive intimacy as a minimalist movie made a unique mark in the overcrowded zombie subgenre. Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson serve as producers. They¡¯re the duo that dreamed up ¡°Resolution¡± (review here), ¡°Spring¡± (review here), and ¡°The Endless¡± (review here). Few filmmakers can claim to be more creative when it comes to crafting introspective stories while maximizing minimum budgets.
These r¨¦sum¨¦s are the reason I¡¯m unexpectedly bummed I couldn¡¯t connect with ¡°After Midnight.¡± By more than one measure, ¡°After Midnight¡± should have struck comparable chords tailored to personal tastes and yet surprisingly, it didn¡¯t.
Distributors are between a rock and another rock when it comes to marketing the movie. A genre outfit would want to hype a horror angle since ¡°After Midnight¡± includes a monster. That¡¯s a recipe for disappointment no matter how you cut it. Anyone anticipating a traditional creature feature will discover ¡°After Midnight¡± to be more of a maudlin drama. Think along lines akin to Edward Burns¡¯ oeuvre and you¡¯re far closer to tapping the tone. A Venn diagram for the film might depict it as a mutated shape bleeding into romance, melodrama, thriller, dark comedy, and quiet character study in disproportionate amounts. It quirkily qualifies as all of those things, yet doesn¡¯t consistently occupy any particular circle long enough to earn an easy label.
¡°After Midnight¡± leaves its modest aesthetic out in the open. It¡¯s hard not to notice only seven actors are included, at least two of whom are wholly irrelevant. However, the production opens up nicely via a large main location with expansive exteriors, as well as a few driving shots to alleviate feeling cramped by finite filming resources.
Performances are certainly sincere. Brea Grant, who remains neck and neck with Lauren Ashley Carter as a go-to girl in this niche of cinema, pulls from a full range of scrunch-nosed cuteness to sobering sullenness to keep Abby¡¯s arc appropriately oriented. By design, ¡°After Midnight¡± doesn¡¯t ask anyone for fireworks acting. Understated authenticity stays essential to the film¡¯s up-and-down exploration of interpersonal relationships and the cast heeds this call.
If you give the movie a go, and you should if its atypical texture sounds intriguing, pay particular attention to Brea Grant during a flashback dinner sequence where her facial expressions subtly fluctuate according to shifts in the table¡¯s casual conversation. Some next level nuance comes into play reminiscent of what Zooey Deschanel does during the record store scene in ¡°500 Days of Summer.¡±
One of the film¡¯s two standout scenes puts Brea Grant as Abby and Jeremy Gardner as Hank in an unbroken two-shot that lasts several minutes. At the height of their emotional exchange, Grant bluntly delivers a heartbreakingly accurate monologue about realizing when the life you envisioned isn¡¯t the one you ended up with. ¡°After Midnight¡± hits fine thematic highs in such moments of observational musing. Regrettably, not all of the writing digs this deep.
It¡¯s odd that the movie keeps me at arm¡¯s length because many of my own fears and insecurities should be reflected in the two key personalities onscreen. I¡¯ve experienced more than one tough breakup. I¡¯m currently in a long-term relationship on the precipice of the next step where I find myself regularly confronting consequential concerns that come with being a responsible partner. Yet even though worries about becoming complacent in a mundane rut occupy constant trains of thought, Abby and Hank¡¯s arcs rarely reflect as entirely relatable to me.
One of the reasons why is because Gardner, who wrote the screenplay in addition to co-starring and co-directing, builds Hank and Abby¡¯s background on often inconsequential dialogue. When depicted in moments of cuddly giggling, Hank and Abby converse in walla-walla that goes on longer than necessary without contributing character-constructing value. It¡¯s supposed to be sufficient to see them playful, cheerful, and closing their eyes while wrapped in each other¡¯s arms, but it¡¯s not. So little meaningful substance exists in their establishing scenes that Hank and Abby¡¯s relationship only receives a superficial coat of paint.
Gardner appears to be exorcising personal demons in a manner that keeps characters and situations too exclusive to this one circumstance. ¡°After Midnight¡± has a tendency to become distracted in indulgences like an overly sentimental score of piano tinkling and multiple music montages of questionable narrative necessity. As a result, the film becomes intensely individual as a portrait of two specific people when broader dynamics would widen its empathetic accessibility.
¡°After Midnight¡± at least concludes the way I hoped it would, although it paves a long road to reach one punchline. You know how it¡¯s impossible to hear Q Lazzarus¡¯ ¡®Goodbye Horses¡¯ without thinking of Buffalo Bill in ¡°The Silence of the Lambs?¡± ¡°After Midnight¡± does something similar. At a bare minimum, you¡¯ll never be able to hear Lisa Loeb¡¯s ¡®Stay (I Missed You)¡¯ again without immediately seeing this movie in your mind¡¯s eye.
I¡¯ve appreciated everything these filmmakers have done previously, but ¡°After Midnight¡¯s¡± occasionally unfocused ambling left me uncharacteristically detached from both story and subtext. I genuinely hope the film finds its audience, although if I¡¯m not among that group, I¡¯m not sure who is.
Review Score: 55