In a time when blockbuster superhero and sci-fi films go through every effort to make sure everything is thoroughly explained, it's a novelty to have a movie that actively does the opposite. Even the title of the film Midnight Special gives nothing away about the film, which is a bit of a shock with movies like Batman vs Superman out. But in his studio début, writer and director Jeff Nichols is masterful at withholding information. The film remains tense and thrilling throughout, mostly because of the unknown.
Perfectly set in the American South and at times evoking the eeriness of True Detective, the film starts with a kidnapping of Alton, a boy who wears blue swimming goggles because sometimes his eyes do crazy glowing things (with Jaeden Lieberher giving his best Haley Joel Osment-esque performance), by his father Roy (with the always intriguing and fastically brooding Michael Shannon) along with the help of his friend Luca (Joel Edgerton). Their journey takes them through cults, run ins with the FBI and trips through three states, all the while dodging falling objects from the sky. It's hard to say too much more without giving anything away.
The film truly takes off when NSA agent Paul Sevier (played by Adam Driver in a return to his quirky likeability-roots after his haunting Star Wars performance) is trying to decode the messages that Alton keeps receiving and figure out what Alton is. Alton's powers are never fully understood or clear in the film, but they are certainly immense and full of surprises, which is all that matters.
You are never quite sure what everyone's motives are, and the emotional and almost spiritual build of the film is increasingly rare in the sci-fi genre. This is also part of its problem. The movie isn't sure if it's an indie film or a giant blockbuster, and really it falls somewhere in between. The acting is universally strong and while the plot does follow seemingly a pretty standard sci-fi format, thankfully Nichols spends no time explaining the well-known structure, instead allowing you to go on the journey with them. This can be frustrating when things like the relationship between Roy and his wife (Kirsten Dunst) isn't clear when it could have added to the film or when inexplicable things happen to Alton, but these are small quibbles.
The movie stumbles at the end when Nichols finally drops the ambiguity and the big reveal is a little underwhelming and clunky, but it's never dull. Midnight Special is refreshing take on a genre in need of it.