There’s a vaguely timeless quality to Jeff Nichols’ first studio film, a sincere and almost reverent call-back to the spiritual sci-fi of the 1970s.
When a determined father takes his son and goes on the run from the sequestered compound of the religious sect they live in, they find themselves not only hunted by his church but by the FBI and NSA as well. The key is Alton, a young boy who seems to have powers he can’t control, powers which may be dangerous or divine in nature.
“Midnight Special” is a clever and intriguing sci-fi road trip which gives up its mysteries slowly and cryptically as we accompany Alton and his father Roy on their flight across the country while the cult plots his recapture and the authorities try to anticipate what their plan is. There are strong echoes of “Close Encounters Of The Third Kind” throughout the film, most strongly in the character of Roy whose compulsion to help his son reach an unknown destiny on little more than faith echoing the obsessive quest of Roy Neary in “Close Encounters” but thanks to a superb performance from Michael Shannon it manages to escape the shadow of its predecessor. “Midnight Special” is the kind of story and storytelling I was hoping for from the recent revival of “The X-Files” but was left wanting and its intriguing mix of church versus state against a lone family gives it a real emotional edge to go with the suspense and drama.
Although there’s really not a wasted minute in its runtime thanks to the cast and the slowly ratcheting tension, a little too much is left unexplored and there’s a lot more you’re left wanting to know about both the cult, its members and the various government agencies’ agendas as you follow the film to a finale which offers an alternative take on the themes explored by Brad Bird’s “Tomorrowland”.
Creatively ambitious, soulful and filled with tremendous performances, “Midnight Special” is high-concept lo-fi sci-fi that brings an old-fashioned sensibility to a thoroughly modern story.