Midnight Special

By Tim McEown

Mailed on April 08, 2016

Stamp image Priority
StarStarStarStarHalf Star

Dear Till Nowak
Concept Artist

Dear Till,

For a science fiction film Midnight Special is notable for its general lack of CGI fireworks. But when they’re necessary, the film delivers. A large part of that is down to your efforts and how completely they manage to create an otherworldly aesthetic—while constrained by budget concerns that would have stymied a lesser artist.

Your ability to create effective visuals in the face significant limitations (either self-imposed or otherwise) is one of the aspects that elevate Midnight Special to something more than the usually overwrought Stranger In A Strange Land motif. This kind of minimalist approach is also indicative of a film that allows the story to unfold organically, without an excess of the obvious signposts that sometimes bog down narratives that deal with complex ideas.

Midnight Special is like an early Spielberg film—a stripped down version of the awestruck stories that littered the ground in the seventies and eighties: films like E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Explorers, even John Carpenter’s Starman. Midnight Special certainly shares DNA with all of these works but it also is possessed of two fundamental differences. The first is that director Jeff Nichols is much less coy about his theme—family and the sacrifice required to raise a child. Secondly, he is far less concerned with narrative hand-holding than most mass-marketed film. There aren’t any expository breaks when one character or another recaps the story for the benefit of the audience.

If you weren’t paying attention it would be easy to lose the thread while watching Midnight Special. This is a small, intimate film (despite the over sized concepts) that never really stops moving. There is a propulsive and often tense undercurrent present as the story unfolds—driven by remarkable performances across the board. Nichols allows the audience just enough information to piece together the necessary narrative skeleton. The rest is up to the actors and the visuals, as well as an engaged audience.

When it comes time for your work to be revealed its impact is profound, partly because of the visual discipline exercised throughout the first two acts of Midnight Special. Nichols is careful about when and where he tips his hand, so when it does happen it is not lost in the wash of the dozens of moment that came before it. This is a perfect example of how effective not showing the shark can be in the hands of someone who is confident enough to wait for the proper moment.

For an audience that wants to do a little bit of work while being absorbed in a high concept, high stakes, low budget science fiction film Midnight Special is close to the perfect fit. Your work, which manages to be both subtle and affecting, is just one of the many reasons why this film is so successful as a very particular coming of age narrative. You perfectly matched both the tone and the intention of this masterful piece of work.



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