After Midnight was brought to my attention after noticing its producers are The Endless director’s Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead. The latter is a film that really stuck with me, since its release in 2017, and so with them involved, I figured this might be something I appreciate and, very thankfully, it really is something as unique as their original film invention.
Co-directed by Christian Stella and Jeremy Gardner, the latter who writes the film and stars in the lead role as Hank, After Midnight is an unusual beast with many sparks of creativity. While it doesn’t always captivate as much as it wants to, there’s still lots to admire and at the middle is passion and true spirit, which, if done sincerely, will always capture me.
Opening with what’s revealed as a flashback, within an ongoing narrative sequence in the opening half-hour, we meet Hank (Gardner) and Abby (Brea Grant), a couple who are noticeably in love and also celebrating Abby’s birthday in an old, family house that’s in need of quite a bit of repair. But this isn’t your normal romantic thriller/drama, as before long we jump forward 10 years and witness Hank waking up alone, drinking and fighting off something that has begun to scratch and attack his front door every night. Also, Abby has now disappeared, leaving only a note on the kitchen cupboard…
While in the early stages, it’s easy to question whether the monster (no spoilers) visiting Hank is pure metaphor, especially as the flashbacks/forwards are entwined with strong edit cuts which drag us out of his happy dreams of Abby, bang into the reality of a monster attacking Hank’s house, it’s also sound-tracked with songs about love and paranoia, which takes you down the path of allegory and doubt.
In the ‘now’, Hank is clearly disengaged with the world outside of his house. So, is he crazy or just struggling to let go of the past and drop his jealously of things his can’t control? Obviously, there’s a lot more at play here and I felt like it’s one of those you have to really feel and experience. Different moments will resonate in separate views of the film I feel, especially as it’s part horror-part drama, along with a whole host of questions that are left hanging in the air.
While a specific genre isn’t always clear, that doesn’t concern me because when it shines, it really shows off. On the technical side, while I struggled to hear some of the early one-on-one conversations between Abby and Hank, for some reason they’re far too quiet, it also features some wonderful cinematography, along with colour schemes that are surely designed to create the atmosphere. While the crisp, green surrounding countryside pierces through, along with colour palettes of grey and brown, at night a blue and yellow scheme augments the visuals, so as Hank drifts away into the night, the colour around him is the same as the blue dress with sunflowers that Abby is wearing in his first memory/daydream, thus both worlds are drifting into each other.
There’s also a 15-or-so-minute monologue scene that really shows off Gardner’s writing, talent and – most importantly – gives both him and Brea Grant a chance to let their characters pull you into a deeply heartfelt world where truths are shared. This is a one-shot sequence, where the camera just sits on them like we were watching a play. While it does zoom in a little, it doesn’t cut and it’s pretty darn epic to admire. Simply one of those moments where you realise later on that we’ve been watching and listening for ages, which is brilliantly mesmerising.
After Midnight doesn’t always hold your attention that well, the opening half-hour made me worry that we’d do that for the whole film, but thankfully it does grow, reveal and expand, like the characters we’re watching plus it signs off with an actually unique, and satisfying, conclusion.
As well as this 2-disc set, Arrow’s extras never seem to disappoint, and they certainly don’t with this release. As well as everything related to this film, they also include an extra disc for Gardner’s entertaining debut film The Battery, meaning you’re getting two films for the price of one, very smart.
I also particularly enjoyed the Lakeland Florida live Q&A, which gives all kinds of insights into the film-making process from some of the team involved. There’s also a bar chat between Stella and Gardner, revealing how they pitched ‘Something Else’ (as it was originally called), alongside an intro from producer Aaron Moorhead. I also loved learning what the top of Triceratops is called, don’t Google it, buy the Blu-ray!
Another terrific extra was the ‘self-interview’ with producer and star Justin Benson, who appears as Shane in After Midnight. He filmed it during the start of the current pandemic and shares his love for the film, the process and the filmmakers, it’s interesting to learn all the time with independent films.
This release is limited to 2,500 units, there’s optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing, plus a reversible sleeve with a choice of artwork designs, a reversible fold-out poster and a limited edition collector’s booklet containing new writing on After Midnight by William Dass and an archive piece on The Battery by Jeremy Gardner.
As well as all this, you also get an absolute wealth of further extras including a behind-the-scenes featurette, outtakes, the trailers and audio commentary from directors Stella and Gardner. This is all bloody great, you’re definitely getting your money’s worth, and then some.