People are screaming, kissing, and hugging. They don silly garments and hats as they celebrate the New Year. Standing in the middle of the throng is Lindsey (Alex Essoe), as she scans the crowd in search of her husband, Jeff (Dylan McTee). She finds him outside, smoking a cigarette and avoiding Lindsey’s work friends. Their marriage is clearly fraught with tension and unspoken resentment for one another. Lindsey is the breadwinner; working at a bank to support Jeff, a failed athlete. Their language is clipped and strained. They appear to be in a marital rut.
What doesn’t help matters is when Jeff hits an unknown man on the side of the road - leading to a chain of events that calls into question Lindsey and Jeff’s trust, loyalty, and devotion for each other.
Written by Alston Ramsay and directed by Julius Ramsay, Midnighters is a taut, small-scale thriller. With only a handful of notable characters all interacting within Jeff and Lindsey’s recently bought fixer-upper home - there is no need for this Hitchcockian plot to be any grander than it is. It immediately feels clear that the Ramsay’s are operating on a small budget, and they certainly make the most of it. In lieu of highly elaborate set pieces, they’ve opted for the atmospheric house to provide the thrills and scares - it is large, looming, with shadows enveloping almost every shot.
Of course, the plot begins to spiral into a tale of deceit and treachery, characters turning on one another, and we are left grappling with who to root for. Is it everyone? Is it no one? Can anyone really be trusted in this mini-world? Once we are introduced to Lindsey’s sister Hannah (Perla Haney-Jardine) and detective Smith (Ward Horton), all bets are off and a tangled web is woven.
That is both a strength and weakness of Midnighters. What at first appears to be a “from bad to worse” tale of morality soon devolves into something far more chaotic. While it is refreshing to watch the Ramsay’s attempt to subvert this traditional filmmaking structure, at a certain point, the characters’ actions feel senseless and mindless. And running at a quick 94 minutes, there is little time to relate to any of the characters - we are immediately pushed into the conflict in the first ten minutes of the film.
Still, though, it is hard not to admire the scope of Midnighters. It combines claustrophobia and squirm-inducing gore with (mostly) effective results. By the back half of the film, though, you might be wishing for nothing more than for everything to be laid out on the table, for every twist to be revealed. Fear not; we do get all of that. But, despite the film’s little exposition, Midnighters is a slow burn. Moments are painful to watch; others are deeply uncomfortable. It requires a certain level of patience, but the end is rewarding enough.
More than anything, Midnighters marks the arrival of the Ramsay brothers as observant newcomers to the horror/thriller genre. Not every beat in the film works, nor are the characters developed enough for us to relate to. That said, there is a ton of potential in these two. They add something unique to the canon of films that ask, "What would you do?" And I am still left wondering that myself -- and that proves an effective quality to their filmmaking.