Midnight Son (2011)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2012-07-05 00:31

Written and Directed by: Scott Leberecht

Starring: Zak Kilberg, Maya Parish, and Jo D. Jonz

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman

“Ain’t nothing worse than waking up in the middle of nowhere with half your face on fire.”

Vampire movies are so done to death that introductions talking about them being done to death have been done to death at this point. Now that the phrase “done to death” has lost all meaning for you, let me assure you that Midnight Son is proof that even many of the vampire sub-genres are starting to feel a little too familiar. In this case, we’re looking at the lo-fi, grounded in reality take on the vampire that George Romero introduced (and arguably perfected) over thirty years ago in Martin. Midnight Son also mixes blood with another worn-out genre: the indie romance, which at least makes sense given the romantic overtones associated with vampirism.

Those films are typically bouncy and twee, with the big complication being something trivial; in this case, at least Jacob (Zak Kilberg) has a reason for being hesitant about relationships: he might be a vampire, or at least something resembling one. His doctors say he’s anemic, which explains his sickly complexion; however, it doesn’t explain why he suddenly has a voracious appetite for blood. Despite his cravings, he attempts to strike up a romance with a girl (Maya Parish) a street vendor who sells lollipops and cigarettes (I guess this is a thing in L.A.?). Needless to say, it’s complicated from the get go, and the film chronicles this potentially ill-fated romance, as Jacob has to figure out a way to satiate his thirst without feasting on his would-be girlfriend.

Like we haven’t seem that before. I guess Midnight Son does have that low-key, gritty vibe going for it. Apparently, they’re calling stuff like this “mumblecore” films: really low-budget, dialogue heavy movies centered around mostly well-off twenty-somethings (but they don’t know what to do with their lives!). They’re sometimes welded onto horror movies--it’s arguable that House of the Devil is the best example of one--and are best characterized as slow burns. Midnight Son is another one, and it even looks to be set in Silverlake (which seems to be west coast hipster capital) so this thing is like a ground zero site for mumblecore, I guess. Anyway, it’s not as slow of a burn as many films out of this mold--stuff actually happens, and there’s an inherent conflict built into Jacob and Mary’s relationship (no matter how clichéd it may be).

That said, Midnight Son doesn’t exactly move at a breathless pace, instead preferring to stay moody and somber (the film’s Tangerine Dream style score really helps to accomplish this). Many of the big moments either involve Jacob and Mary’s attempt to make love before either being interrupted by his issues or hers. She’s grappling with a coke habit, as if Midnight Son needed to make the connection between vampirism and drug addiction even more explicit--Jacob even gets his blood from a dealer (Jo D. Jonz) that works at a local hospital and sells the stuff on the side. This stuff ends up being the real story by the end of Midnight Son, as the romance ends up taking a little bit of a backseat during the climax. This is just as well since Kilberg and Parish are a little stiff--their characters end up seeming like perfectly nice people, but I’m not so sure they’re compelling cinematic figures, which is really weird considering one of them is in fact a vampire (while the film pussyfoots around the “v” word, there’s no doubt that Jacob is one, though how he became afflicted with it is a little muddled).

Midnight Son is decidedly grungy, too. There might be a love story at its center, but it’s not sappy, and the film has a nasty, violent streak. Its violence is grim, unflinching, and well realized by some grimy practical gore effects. The film just sometimes feels dark--if it’s a partial reflection of drug addiction, Midnight Son effectively captures the despair and horror of being beholden to an uncontrollable force. Director Scott Leberecht doesn’t wallow in doom and gloom at all times, though--there’s a clever bit where Jacob watches Fright Night (which he rents from an awesome video store that still stocks VHS) then tries to see if a cross will really leave a burn tattoo like Evil Ed’s. Midnight Son is sometimes wry like this, as it sort of picks and chooses which bits of vampire lore actually count, but sunlight obviously ends up being a big deal. Jacob is a painter who especially loves to capture the sunrise because he’s obviously never seen one.

Okay, that sounds like typical cloying indie drama bullshit, I guess, but Midnight Son is mostly bullshit free. I suppose it feels like a breath of fresh air when compared to most vampire tales, and it’s always nice to see a vampire story get stripped of its gothic pretensions every once in a while. Midnight Son isn’t the best among this crowd, but it’s a logical companion piece to the likes of Near Dark, Addicted, and Tainted all the same, a brooding little love story with a side of bloodlust. After making the festival tour for the past year, the movie is coming to DVD courtesy of Image Entertainment on July 17th. The disc’s presentation is solid--the film is low budget and carries that harsh, digital grainy look during the darker scenes (of which there are many), and the soundtrack is mostly front loaded. The disc’s special features include some deleted scenes, interviews with the cast and crew, a trailer, and a commentary with Leberecht, Killberg, Parish, and Jonz. Midnight Son is a little clunky, especially the start-and-stop-and-restart beats for the central relationship, but it’s also manages to be gross, sad, and even manages to show a little humanity at times, something that’s often lost with vampire films. Rent it!

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