The horror genre has become increasingly popular over the last ten years to the point where, as horror aficionados, there is always something new to watch. My passion for horror films is huge and I am one of those viewers who enjoys such a myriad of styles within the genre. From high budget, well scripted mainstream horrors right through to indie productions and cheap jumpscare laden b-graders. I even like a few terrible horror movies (for the wrong reasons) as they can be entertaining in their own right (again, for the wrong reasons). As a result I weirdly have both optimistically high standards whilst having little to no expectations for every horror I watch.
Prior to seeing The Midnight Man it had already ticked a few of my “I’m sure it will be fine for a Tuesday night” horror movie boxes. The cover looked creepy enough, it starred Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger!!) and had creature effects/supernatural themes to it. Yes! All the makings of a cheap jumpscare horror – the perfect straight to DVD movie to laugh/scream at on a weeknight. Some horror fans may also delight in the fact it stars Lin Shaye from the Insidious Franchise (unfortunately for me she is one of the main things that I DON’T like about the Insidious franchise – I find her entirely one dimensional, over the top and borderline unbearable). Having said that, at least it had a few actors who had experience with the genre and the writer/director had recently made the unneeded, unwanted and unenjoyable Cabin Fever remake – so none of these people were horror virgins by any means.
The film starts as a lot of horrors do – set many years before the rest of the film where 3 children are playing a creepy game in a creepy attic in a creepy house – the game is said to summon the Midnight Man (a character baring a strong resemblance to the Crooked Man from The Conjuring). This opening sequence features expected mediocre child acting which is always reasonably forgivable, however I felt that this sequence was so long and drawn out that it made it harder to put up with how intolerable these young performers were. We then are treated to some super graphic violence and a few really weak attempts at jump scares before fast forwarding to the present day. In true horror fashion we are in the same house with one of the children from the prologue who is now predictably a crazy old lady played by the aforementioned one note Lin Shaye. Queue the unprepared granddaughter who stumbles upon the evil game and the Midnight Man is summoned once more when she and her stupid friend/boyfriend/guy she kisses for no reason, find the game in the attic.
The rules of the game are this: summoning this Midnight Man means that you can’t leave the house from midnight until 3.33am. You can’t stay still during this time, if your candle goes out you have 10 seconds to light it again (which appears to be 10 seconds from when you start counting rather than when it actually goes out. Like honestly sometimes they have a full conversation then start counting and as an audience member you’re like “they started counting a good 8 seconds after the candle went out – come on Mr Midnight Man! Call them up on this!). If you don’t follow these rules then the Midnight Man finds you and you need to draw a circle of salt on the ground to stay safe from him. If the rules sound vague, don’t worry, because the film barely sticks to its own rules and the Midnight Man is famous for cheating (the kind of guy you wouldn’t want to play monopoly with). Usually the idea of rules being set within a horror universe is so that everything and everyone has to operate within these set of rules – this helps the audience to understand the stakes and to know when people are safe/in danger and helps us to react and be drawn in to the world accordingly. The film begins to fall apart very quickly by not sticking to the rules it set itself and also by having the villain not follow the rules which makes it all very irrelevant and pointless. Any chance of fear or tension turns to frustration/confusion very quickly as it spends so much time repeating these rules and then completely ignoring them.
The rest of the film consists of one of the worst (and I mean WORST) scripts I have experienced in a very long time. The story has potential but the dialogue is abhorrent. This is made even more frustrating when I dug a little deeper and discovered that this story was used in another film a few years earlier by the same name (so why remake it?). Of course it’s a horror so we don’t need necessarily expect it to be penned by the screenwriter equivalent of Picasso but it would be nice if it was written by someone who has actually heard humans talk before. The dialogue is so forced and so unbelievable that it’s hard to expect these average actors to do anything with it. Film is about showing not just speaking. It is a visual medium. However this script forces actors to describe absolutely everything they are doing to the point that a clock goes off at 4am (to be precise about 50 clocks go off at 4am – it’s a house with lots of clocks). We see the time change to 4am on said clocks. The lead characters then count the 4 chimes emitted by the clocks, confirming that it is 4am. This is enough for the audience to know, without a doubt, what time it is. It is enough for people in the room next door who aren’t watching the movie to know it’s 4am. We are so aware that the film is telling us it’s 4am that to even jokingly suggest otherwise would be hilarious (especially once you know the “twist”). Despite this, the script then forces it’s protagonist to say “it’s 4am”. At this point I wished it was 4am and that I was sound asleep and not watching this appalling film.
On the plus side – there’s some pretty well handled gore so if you can sit through garbage writing, acting and directing for some reasonably aggressive violence and gore then you might be moderately satisfied with the outcome. After all, if the Midnight Man catches you during the game then he forces you to live through your worst fear (which for literally every character is some sort of physical violence/throat cutting and weirdly a really violent bunny rabbit.) This concept, again, has potential as far as an intriguing horror story goes but was so badly handled by director/writer Travis Zariwny that there’s nothing really here to enjoy. At all.
– Ashton Brown