There are very few films that have the confidence to embrace silent characters, to have the plot move along without any dialogue or voiceover to offer a helping hand to any viewer who might need a bit of support in understanding motivation or reasoning. Midnight Special is such a film. And whether you end up loving it or hating it could very well depend on how you feel about pauses that would make Pinter jealous.
In broad terms this is a homage to Spielberg. A young boy with strange powers is taken across the American heartlands by his family with the ununderstanding forces of officialdom hot in pursuit. The key messages are about the love a parent has for their child, even if that child is unknowable, and that the greatest mysteries of the universe could be right next to us, but always out of sight. It doesn’t have the warmth or playfulness of that older material but it does create a deep and intriguing world. And it does so without any droning exposition or needless neat tying thing together.
The direction and design is clever. Scenes are tightly controlled until moments of revelation when we pull back in wonder. The boy, Alton, with his hidden-behind-goggles-bright-eyes looks and acts like so many gawky kids. Kirsten Dunst and Michael Shannon as the parents are quite remarkably good (the former in the only female role of note in the film), conveying so much through gesture or the slightest twitch.
Midnight Special may not quite hit the heights it aims for but it’s a welcome enjoyably unsettling and intelligent experience even if, perhaps, it won’t leave everyone totally satisfied.