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A WALKING DEAD Director Offers Feature-Length Thrills in MIDNIGHTERS (LAFF Review)

A WALKING DEAD Director Offers Feature-Length Thrills in MIDNIGHTERS (LAFF Review)

There’s an old saying, oft repeated by parents and attributed to football player Bo Schembechler: that nothing good ever happens after midnight. On New Year’s Eve, many might be inclined to disagree, but not anyone in the movie Midnighters. Lindsey (Alex Essoe) and Jeff (Dylan McTee) are dysfunctional enough as a couple that they don’t even find each other for the timely midnight kiss at the sparsely attended, sad-sack New Year’s party where they find themselves, but add a little to much alcohol and put them behind the wheel of a car, and one thing leads to another. A hand on a thigh, a distracted gaze, and a guy suddenly walking into the middle of the road goes splat.

He’s still breathing at first, but not for long, and there’s no cell phone reception, so Jeff cooks up a plan that would only sound remotely responsible in drunk world: go home with the victim, wait two hours to sober up, and then drive to the hospital. Nonetheless, it’s a plan that at first works better than it should, until Lindsey’s sister Hannah (Perla Haney-Jardine) comes home and inadvertently ensures the man’s demise. And then they find their home address on a piece of paper in his wallet: this frightening-looking stranger was already looking for them when he got hit.

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It’s best not to reveal most of what happens next, as external pressures mount courtesy of two seemingly nice police officers and a creepily charismatic man with big shiny teeth (Ward Horton) who claims to be a detective. Things get twisty as individuals panic and try to form and break hasty alliances to protect themselves, though after a while it becomes clear that if you just expect each character to do the most morally awful thing possible in any given situation, you can probably predict the next move.

Director Julius Ramsay, who has worked on The Walking Dead as an editor and director, appears to relish the chance to get away from that show’s color palette by shooting most of Midnighters in a dark blue that makes under-lit rooms a lot more pleasant to look at. He’s a master at shooting empty scenes without people in a creepy fashion; once the humans enter, they’re not (with the exception of the initial victim) quite as frightening in appearance or vibe. In real life, of course, those are the ones you have to watch out for—something of which Ramsay and his brother, screenwriter Alston Ramsay, are well aware. Alston, who has no other industry credits, comes to screenwriting having previously worked as a speechwriter for General Petraeus and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and is no doubt well familiar with duplicity from his time in the nation’s capital.

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I’m not sure I necessarily buy that every character would be as venal at every turn as they turn out to be, but it only matters that I buy into it enough to stay interested…and I do. The squeamish should be warned, however, that while the movie is far from torturous to sit through, the actual torture in it may be.

3.5 diabolical burritos out of 5:

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Images: Prodigy PR

Luke Y. Thompson is a member of the L.A. Film Critics Association and has been delightedly attending LAFF for 17 years. Tweet @LYTrules

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