Director: Jeremy Gardiner
Starring: Jeremy Gardner, Brea Grant, Justin Benson
Review Author: Tony
Synopsis: Hank (Jeremy Gardner) has found himself in a rut. He’s unkept, his house is becoming a pigsty, his friends are worried for him, and a monster keeps tormenting him every night. The cause of Hank’s torment other than the nocturnal creature is the recent disappearance of the love of his life, Abby. Hank cannot figure out why Abby has left him or why this monster continues to harass him, but he suspects these events might be connected.
The Battery was probably one of the first indie horror films I’d seen and the originator of my enthusiasm for this branch of horror filmmaking. Gardner’s directorial debut was a fantastic examination of a friendship in a zombie apocalypse. Ever since I’ve been checking in regularly to see what Gerner has been working on so you can imagine my excitement last year when his latest film released, After Midnight.
The creature attacks throughout the film are incredibly tense with each encounter escalating and becoming more dangerous. Hank may be unravelling but as the viewer, we know he’s not crazy, it’s these events and lack of belief from his friends and family that are driving him to more drastic measure. Hank is a capable and compelling character trying to both trap or collect evidence of these horrifying encounters to dispel the boy who cried wolf reputation he’s gained.
Performances are noteworthy throughout with a special shout out to Garner, Brea Grant, and Henry Zebrowski. Each brings a certain nuance to the narrative, be it Garner’s melancholic tone, Grant’s bubbly presence, or Zebrowski’s care free comedic delivery. The casting is solid, and I loved seeing fellow indie horror maestro Justin Benson popping up in a supporting role.
Gardner utilizes a minimalistic approach to the camerawork which suits the film’s mood and atmosphere and allows for character interaction to develop and breathe. The dialogue seems improvisational in nature, a technique Gardner emphasized in The Battery. Problem is lengthy monologues and melodrama takes over in the second act and the film’s narrative becomes muddled from everything the first act established.
Dare I say After Midnight subverts expectations (sigh) by dropping the facade of a horror film for an indie mumblecore drama. Perhaps it was Gardner’s intention to pull the wool over our eyes for a more poignant experience; and while a lot of elements work very well in this film, the end result is a film too conflicted to embrace the genre it has marketed itself as.
Praise belongs to the unescapable rural setting, neat cinematography, and engaging performances. Whereas Gardners previous films have used their concepts as backdrops for well acted films that explore a multitude of themes, After Midnight is less focused and engaging. I appreciate the movie’s effort to explore more personal themes within the horror genre, but dropping an element that was actually incredibly effective (especially for an indie film) feels criminal. Despite the film’s identity crisis, there’s a lot here to enjoy and admire, and I’ll certainly be lining up to see what Garner does next.
This review is a part of this month’s focus on horror films as part of Halloween season. You can find the full schedule, along with weekly subgenre and previous reviews here.
Rating: 2.5 / 5 Founder KBS