Starring Jeremy Gardner, Brea Grant, Henry Zebrowski, Justin Benson, Ashley Song. Jeremy Gardner & Christian Stella.
After Midnight (formerly titled Something Else) is the perfect film for these lockdown times. A film that might, in the big world of cinema tentpoles, have been lost, but works perfectly for home viewing.
Genre is a very fluid thing, and in a way cannot truly be pinned down to any one thing. For many people, enjoying a film might mean not having any expectations with regards to genre conventions. To this end, describing the plot of After Midnight might spoil the fun of it. Suffice to say, the basic premise concerns Hank, a man who believes his house is attacked every night by a monster, and by day spends his time alone pining for his missing girlfriend Abby, much to the concern of his friends.
The film is written, co-directed by and starring Jeremy Gardner, while shot and co-directed by Christian Stella. It has a confined feel; it’s an indie movie in the mould of a Terrence Malick, by way of H.P Lovecraft.
Gardner’s beardy, angry Hank and his interactions with people make the film feel more like Blue Valentine, as flashbacks show a happier time in the life of Hank and Brea Grant’s Abby, as they talk about wine, have friends round and enjoy their relationship. It feels like you’re watching a film destined to be an indie classic, a sort of bittersweet Richard Linklater movie, but this underlying threat remains the whole time.
As an audience, we get asked a very simple question: is Hank really being attacked night after night by a monster, or is it that the grief of his girlfriend going away unannounced is tearing his mind apart? The mumblecore aspect, and the fantastic use of music, helps the film tread this line as we see his day-to-day routine trying to run a bar, and maintain a few friendships, all the while getting ready each night to fend his home from a monster.
The film has a wistless feel, full of that aching that comes from a breakup, none of the closure, and the dusk glow of the flashbacks make it feel dreamlike. Christian Stella’s cinematography is perfectly pitched, framing scenes to either appear as it happens in a memory or filled with menacing threat. Though this is not a horror film per se, the mounting dread each night juxtaposes with the scenes that feel like a Mike Leigh film, with awkward conversations on the verge of falling apart.
The directors aren’t flashy, but one near fifteen-minute unbroken shot of a conversation allows the writing and the performance to take over, with both Gardner and Grant looking as if they channelling Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams in Manchester by the Sea and the scene feels like a one act play. It’s devastating and moving without ever going for huge big emotions.
The film is not big on plot, but its overarching question about if it is or isn’t a monster film will find a niche in these times, and on the horror front, one expertly placed jump scare is so well done it puts Carrie and Friday the 13th to shame. In a way, the title feels like a serving suggestion: After Midnight, best seen in the dark, perhaps on your own, just when you think you’re alone.