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Streaming Sematary: “THE MIDNIGHT MAN” Translates Urban Legends into Generational Trauma

Friday, May 22, 2020 | Review

By JAMES TUCKER

Starring: Lin Shaye, Gabrielle Haugh, Robert Englund
Directed by Travis Zariwny
Written by Travis Zariwny, Rob Kennedy
Produced by Midnight Productions.

Finally! A good movie.

I feel like these introductions have devolved in quality a bit over time. I’m just excited, alright? I didn’t expect much from THE MIDNIGHT MAN when I pulled it up; I had just got done watching FERAL and, well, if you read this Tuesday’s article you know how that turned out. I was also familiar with the Creepypasta, the urban legend that spawned the film; and while I was curious enough to give it a go and review it for the blog, I was a little concerned that THE MIDNIGHT MAN would be your typical disposable paranormal horror film. Forgettable characters, lackluster (almost programmatic) jump scares, and a CG monster that looked so unforgivably unrealistic that it couldn’t scare a toddler. I have never been so happy to be so wrong, because while this film does borrow beats from its predecessors, it puts it’s own batshit twist on those concepts that makes it more than worth a watch.

THE MIDNIGHT MAN follows Alex Luster (Gabrielle Haugh) as she tries to take care of her grandma, Anna Luster (Lin Shaye). Anna’s getting on in years and suffering from dementia, so she’s more than a bit restless; after Alex tries to put her to bed, she asks her doting granddaughter if she can go up to the attic and get her a small hand mirror she used to love. Alex’s friend/boyfriend Miles (Grayson Gabriel) shows up, and the two of them go up into the attic together to search for Grandma’s mirror. Of course, they come across a mysterious box bound with twine, and they just HAVE to open it. Inside they find a set of materials for a ritual, torn handwritten instructions, and a list (with photographs) of all the people who’d played the game before. They’re bored, they have to stay home and take care of grandma; who can blame them for giving the strange game a shot? Only, why is grandma laughing and sneaking about the house?

“THE MIDNIGHT MAN takes a modern day urban legend and transforms it into a story about cross-generational trauma.”

First off, let me just say that this film is WAY smarter than any movie based on Spooky Spaghetti ought to be. The titular spectre very quickly becomes a symbol for generational trauma, horror that is inflicted by parents onto their children in a seemingly endless cycle that breaks some and permanently changes others. While I thought upon the first viewing that Lin Shaye’s character would be treated like Deborah from The Taking of Deborah Logan, where her dementia would be the main source of horror (getting old is scary and leads to demon possession kids, never forget), her dementia is treated more as a footnote, an excuse to bring all of her memories bubbling to the surface in appropriately spooky ways. Lin Shaye’s character (no spoilers, as usual) was a monster long before we started to tune in; she is unable to deal with her trauma, so it gets inflicted upon others. And even she is just a link in the chain this film forges between family members, friends, and the damage they can do to one another.

That aside, I have never been more scared of Lin Shaye. Ever. The acting in this movie can get a bit weak in other areas, and there are some lines that (if you’re like me) will make you chuckle or sigh with exasperation. But my god, she brings it and almost makes the film all on her own. The twisted face she makes when she realizes the Midnight Man has been summoned, her alternating between a childlike state and stone-cold authority figure… she turned in one of the more terrifying and vivid performances I’ve seen this year. The Midnight man’s creature design might throw you a little bit; they probably could have done with showing him off a little less. But by the end of the film as more and more gets revealed, it will have grown on you, maybe even impressed you. The director plays quite a bit with things happening in the background, one of my favorite things to see in any horror film: keeping things just out of sight, making you wonder if you missed something, seeing something move out of the corner of your eye. Yet he also plays around a bit with gore: there is one moment where one of the characters is suspended in midair above a bathtub that has a… distinctly Clive Barker-esque feel to it.

Half the time, THE MIDNIGHT MAN looks like Donatello from TMNT. The other half, he looks like this.

Most importantly for our purposes here, the film goes above and beyond into some weird ass places. This film features talking rabbit men brandishing knives, hands ripping through faces, bathtubs filled with blood, an Ahab that’s never quite able to catch his white whale, and the occasional face/body distortion. I’m not even doing it justice, really. THE MIDNIGHT MAN is by no means a perfect film, but the phenomenal performances, the alternation between quiet horror and gore, and the batshit places it decides to go to make THE MIDNIGHT MAN one to remember. I’m giving it an 8 out of 10; it’s more than worth a watch if you’re looking for something fresh and entertaining.

Next week, we move away from Hulu and back to Shudder. There’s been a film or two that has been released lately that I can’t wait to cover.

Until then.

 

James Tucker
AHH! Who gave the intern a keyboard? James Tucker has no qualifications to speak of, aside from being an English major and a lifelong horror nerd. In addition to writing the column “Streaming Semetery” for Rue Morgue, he is also an editing intern for Crystal Lake Publications and has also acted as an editorial assistant for the University of Central Florida’s Journal of Wyndham Lewis Studies. In his spare time, he conducts undergraduate level research on horror films and writes his own (terminally shitty) horror fiction. (A real party animal, this one.) Since that’s about the extent of his achievements so far, he would also like you to know he’s a huge GHOST fan and his favorite horror movie is Hereditary.