THE MIDNIGHT MAN: A Surprisingly Delightful Horror Film That Just Might Get You
While by no means without its faults, The Midnight Man, from director Travis Zariwny, is a good time horror film that fans of the genre will love.
A couple weeks ago, a horror loving friend of mine and I settled in for a double feature horror film night – The Open House and The Midnight Man. To our dismay, confusion regarding release dates left us with only one film available – the one we really wanted to see at the center of the confusion no less. Usually, when viewing of pre-planned films falls through, the movie tends to fall to the wayside, added to a list of films usually referenced as “Oh! I’ve wanted to see that! It’s been on my list forever.” The Midnight Man did not succumb to this fate, thankfully, proving to be a view-worthy film.
From the moment you enter the home at the center of the film, the creep level is turned wicked high and the nostalgic feel of a classic monster hiding in the shadows comes rushing back. While by no means without its faults, The Midnight Man from director Travis Zariwny is a good time horror film that fans of the genre will love.
At the Stroke of Midnight…
Starting in 1953, three terrified children (Summer H. Howell, Callie Lane and Keenan Lehmann) struggle to light a candle, spreading a thin line of salt around them. Sheer terror in their faces, they slowly try to breath relief, believing themselves to be safe, to have followed “the rules”. Announcing the time is now 3:33 AM, their sighs are snuffed as quickly as their candles as an unspoken evil lurks around them – one of the children lunging out of the circle and into the shadows. While her friends scream for her to get back in the circle, that it is not safe, she denies their cries – and is quickly dragged into the darkness, only a slow running pool of blood to confirm her fate.
Running in fear, the two children (a boy and a girl) run down the stairs trying to escape the unseen evil, the boy running outside into the pure white snow, as the young girl screams he is breaking the rules and to come back inside. He yells for her to follow, that it is the only way to survive – moments before he is consumed and transformed into a red mist.
Flash forward to present day, in the same house, an old woman, Anna (Lin Shaye), suffering from dementia is tucked in for the night by her granddaughter. Seemingly drifting between lucidity and demonic possession, Anna requests that her granddaughter Alex (Gabrielle Haugh) retrieve her vanity mirror from the attic. Kindly heeding to her grandmother’s wishes, she begins combing through a suitcase in the attic where her grandmother believes she will find it – stumbling upon a wrapped and tattered box along the way. With her friends’ (Grayson Gabriel and Emily Haine) encouragement, she opens the box – candles, matches and aged paper and pictures inside. Shrieking at them both, the grandmother cries out in horror that they have begun the game and collapses to the floor.
Undeterred by Anna’s cries, the two follow the instructions on the aged paper, summoning The Midnight Man (Kyle Strauts) into their home. Yet, as the game begins, they find they may have called on themselves more than they can handle – and that not everything they see or know may be as it seems.
You Have to Play By the Rules
As Randy from Scream states, there are very specific rules for surviving a horror film – the same can be said for making one. First, you want a well thought out and well-timed film, one that does not lose you due to dragging, or ends before you can grasp what has happened. You want a fear factor, unexpecting jumps and scares in the dark, monsters lurking in the shadows waiting to pounce unsuspecting victims. You want imagery, beautifully crafted shots and gore that make you want to tell the character “Run! Don’t go there!” – an unyielding dance between the light and shadows spelling doom and terror. Specific items must take on an importance beyond the norm – a symbol of evil and destruction. While The Midnight Man was not perfect nor encompassingly terrifying, it did manage to satisfy the rules of a horror film, making for one delightful addition to the genre.
Right away, The Midnight Man seems like a higher budget and higher production value film than you would expect for a film released as Video on Demand. The colors are crisp and the shadows haunting, smoke from snuffed candles lingering – a great show of craft by cinematographer Gavin Kelly. You are immediately thrown into the endgame of some terrifying round three children have found themselves in – with only the rules to save them. The entire story fits neatly into a nice 90-minute run time. While there were a few scenes that could have been shaved down, it really didn’t affect the time and pace of the film.
Gore was delicately utilized within The Midnight Man, allowing a more welcoming film for those with uneasy stomachs. It was the perfect amount to throw you off your kilter from the very beginning, as the pool of blood from one of the children slowly creeps out of the shadows and into the light. As the film progresses, there is gore through the fears of the players that teeters the line of “too much”, crafting just enough horror through the imagery without overdoing it.
Lighting for the film was an interesting choice as well, most of the film shot in the dark as it is safer than the light – according to the game. Only candles are used to illuminate the room and the players. This will create an issue for viewers as this makes it difficult to see the Midnight Man when he does appear – though this I believe was intended by director Travis Zariwny – leading viewers to question whether their minds are playing tricks on them.
The Midnight Man was set at the same house with no other setting throughout the entire film. This allowed for framing that would heighten the mindset of the film. Scenes within the home were constricting and tightly framed, while shots from outside looking at the home were wider to show the vast space of movement in contradiction to the inside.
Clocks were a vital item within this film that had specific purposes for all involved. The game starts at midnight after a series of knocks within the first minute and will not end until 3:33 AM. Anna has a room, floor to ceiling, covered in clocks. When Anna is being coxed into bed by Alex, she states the time is only 8:20 PM signifying her constant awareness of the time. Watches and countdowns follow, many with interlacing shots of one of the various clocks within the house. Time in this game is vital – the difference between life or death.
I have never really seen too many of the Insidious films – unfortunately confusing them many times with Sinister (I need to stop watching so many horror films so close together). But I must say, Lin Shaye is one of the most terrifying women in the horror genre. While many of the distortions and shadows on her face were created with brilliant cinematography by Gavin Kelly and cleverly constructed camera angles by Travis Zariwny, I do not believe the effectiveness of Anna would have been achieved without Lin Shaye‘s embodiment. She was the creepiest lady I have ever seen in a film – giving Mary Shaw (Dead Silent) a run for her money. The ease with which she shifts between different mental states is brilliant and highly talented – the muscles in her face following the tone and dialogue she utters. I had selected this film to view mainly because Robert Englund was casted – but I ended the film amazed and totally in love with Lin Shaye.
And speaking of the original Freddie Krueger – what a performance from the horror legend himself Robert Englund. The performance was not over-the-top or eccentric like many of his roles before. Instead, he lended himself to a low key tone of character – reserved and fearful. It was a breath of fresh air to see him take on a character with different values and mindsets – instead of a sociopathic dream killer or cannibalistic leader. He didn’t control or overshadow the film either, with his presence giving the story and its various characters their space and acknowledgement.
The Midnight Man: Conclusion
I do have to say that playing a game you just found that summons the Midnight Man into your home is something you should NEVER begin – and I still shake my head at the characters that thought this was a good idea. Oh! and if any game includes pricking your finger for blood, that’s your first signal to get outta there!
The Midnight Man brings to its film everything that is loved about horror films. It follows the rules of the genre while displaying its own game on screen. My only complaint is that it just barely lended too much of its clues throughout, leading me to guess the ending – though it was not a revelation I was entirely confident I was right about.
With the rules laid out and the game ended, it seems The Midnight Man has added new rules to surviving a horror film as well: never go through your grandmother’s things – you never know what you might unearth.
Did you see The Midnight Man? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!
The Midnight Man was released on January 21, 2018 on all VOD platforms. For all international release dates, see here.
Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.