Director: Scott Leberecht
Screenplay: Scott Leberecht
Starring: Zak Kilberg, Maya Parish, Jo D Jonz, Arlen Escarpetta, Larry Escarpetta
BBFC Certification: 18
Duration: 88 mins
Scott Leberecht’s no-budget vampire thriller was filmed way back in 2007, before post production costs and a certain economic implosion delayed its completion. After teaching himself editing to cut the film, and after securing a partnership with executive producers Eduardo Sanchez (The Blair Witch Project) and Reed Frerichs, Midnight Son eventually secured US distribution in 2011 and the film is now released in the UK in 2013.
Of course there is some irony in its delay. Since the shoot the popularity of pointy-toothed night creature films has exploded, only to now be in relative backdraft in favour of Katniss Everdines and witches. In the boom years TV series like The Vampire Diaries and the more adult orientated True Blood have been bookended by the entire tween-screaming Twilight collection, and the genre has even extended its reach to comedy (Dark Shadows) and children’s films (Hotel Transylvania). This saturation has encouraged the production of vampire films and broadened its audiences, but simultaneously waned a tired public’s appetite for more.
As a result Midnight Son suffers as much as it benefits from its timing, and any suggestion it is jumping on a bandwagon just doesn’t tally with its chronology.
Not only is Leberecht’s micro-budget creation previous to most modern vampire stories, it also goes in a different direction. For while Twilight et al have generally romanticised the idea of eternally young vampirism, Midnight Son is a lower key, more human, examination of the “condition”. And in Midnight Son’s case, it is a very much a “condition”. Leberecht does not concern himself with the origins of lead character Jacob’s (Zak Kilberg, The Slaughter) affliction, nor does he deploy all aspects of vampire lore (there are no crosses burning skin or a lack of reflections in mirrors). Instead Midnight Son sets its stall at vampire realism and centres more simply, and closely, on a young loner who has always been averse to sunlight.
The director considers Midnight Son to be a “thinking man’s horror”, and it certainly achieves a lot within its no-budget limitations. Jacob Grey is a thin, 24 year old night security guard who has been experiencing increasing hunger no matter how much he eats, his body apparently changing now he is becoming a full grown adult. When a doctor suggests he may be anaemic, he discovers that blood from meat juice helps with his hunger pains, and his world simultaneously expands in a nervy meeting with local bartender, Mary (Maya Parish). He attempts to hide his pains, but Mary suffers a nosebleed in their first real clinch. Finding his hunger finally quenched, he gradually considers the implausible - that his condition may mean something more sinister.
A series of grisly murders, that Jacob suspects may have been his doing, and a relationship with a blood-peddling corrupt hospital orderly (played by Jo D Jonz) provide growing external pressures, while Jacob’s hope of pursuing his relationship with Mary and the promise of his artwork – sunset canvases block up his basement flat windows – simultaneously dangle the possibility of a normal life. Inevitably the cracks widen in Jacob’s attempts to reconcile both, and the paths Jacob ends up taking can often prove unsettling.
In the final third Leberecht pushes Midnight Son closer to stock thriller territory, which is slightly disappointing given the patience and intimacy of what precedes it. However the shift in tone – and increase in vampire lore – do enable Midnight Son to climb to a more high stakes finish, which may satisfy as many as it disappoints.
In terms of the production itself, Midnight Son can’t hide its near zero budget roots. It impresses with what it has achieved but clean shots - such has an early zoom towards Jacob's covered windows from across the road - clash awkwardly with more regular grainy and shaky pictures, and the acting, particularly in linking scenes, isn’t always its strongest suit.
Looking beyond this, Midnight Son is a basic tale that stays small and simple and is a gentle twist on a genre. It is not in the same class has Let The Right One In, and veers too close to melodrama in its final sequences, but it shares the Scandanavian hit’s intentions and spirit. In the end it is a high-end, but rough, zero-budget film as opposed to something capable of indie glory, but it shows great promise and potential for its creators.
Often unsettling. Basic and brisk before its long-in-the-tail tonal shift. But certainly worth a look for modern vampire fans.
Review by Jonathan Guyett