What Lies Beyond
Stars: Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver, Sam Shepard and introducing Jaeden Lieberher
Director/Scriptwriter: Jeff Nichols
Composer: David Wingo
Cinematographer: Adam Stone
Tri State Pictures/Warner Brothers
Rating: PG 13 for startling images and violence
Running Length: 112 minutes
Combine “Close Encounter of the Third Kind,” with “E.T.” and a mix of the television series, “Fringe,” and you have the plot for Jeff Nichol’s film, “Midnight Special.” (Yes, the song is on the soundtrack.) Made on a smaller budget, the movie, yet has an appeal about love, devotion and the feeling that you aren't the only one in an empty room. Michael Shannon (“99 Homes”) stars as a father (Roy) with a deep love for his child, Alton (newcomer Jaeden Lieberher), who is “unusual.” There is faith and trust here and a situation that has little dialogue, rather relying on facial expression and body language to convey what is going on. Joel Edgerton (Lucas) tags along as an old friend of Roy’s, whom Roy goes to for help. Lucas was a highway patrolman, who knows the ins and outs of defense and looks eerily like Jeremy Renner (“Hurt Locker.”) Kirsten Dunst, as Sarah, the mother, is the fourth part of this square and as the square slides along to a conclusion, you wonder just who else is involved here, anyway.
The basic story has Roy and Sarah giving Alton to a religious cult, run by Sam Shepard (Calvin Meyer) as he has “mysterious powers,” such as intense light coming from his eyes. Alton prefers to sleep in the daytime, and the cult gets groups of numbers from him that are incorporated into sermons. They think it is the beginning of Dooms Day. Sarah leaves the cult, but Roy stays until Alton’s health begins to fail and that’s when he gets the help of Lucas, to take Alton to a certain location in Louisiana in three days---or else. In the meantime, along the way Alton’s strange behaviors are observed and soon the government (helicopters and all) are after them, and it seems to know more then they are letting on. Their prime investigator being Paul Sevier (Adam Driver from “Star Wars.”) There are chases, escapes, captures, shootings, a space satellite dropping down on a gasoline station and Lucas running out of ideas to defend them. The deadline on those three days is coming nearer and nearer.
I wasn't prepared for the ending which is both satisfying and mystifying. Michael Shannon always has the look of a desperate man and this role suits him well. He is both tender and on the look out. Body language speaks well. Kirsten Dunst’s Sarah is a Mom who couldn't cope then, but does now. It is Joel Edgerton who steals his scenes as the man with protection written all over him, plus a touch of tenderness, too. Adam Driver, as the chief government investigator, gives us a person who can't grasp what is going on here, but is willing to go for it. After all, nothing is perfect….
I found “Midnight Special” to be an above-average science fiction film that intertwined a religious sect with caring for a special child, a protective father, a willing-to-help friend, and a Mom who is back in the fold. Yes, and the government men still drive black SUV’s. Camera work is close-up and the soundtrack is in the action, but not obvious. “Midnight Special,” is, indeed, special.
Copyright 2016 Marie Asner