Monday, 24 October 2011
Midnight Son - Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2011
Midnight Son (2011) dir. Scott Leberecht
Starring: Zak Kilberg, Maya Parish, Jo D. Jonz, Arlen Escarpeta, Larry Cedar, Tracey Walter
By Greg Klymkiw
Jacob (Zak Kilberg) is sick. Very, very sick. He leads a solitary existence in a basement apartment with all the windows sealed shut. By day, he is a brilliant young artist - painting variations on a similar theme: exquisite renderings of the sun. He pays his rent working as a night-shift security guard. He is so sensitive to the rays of the sun that his arm bears the horrendous scars of burned flesh.
Of late, he's been extremely hungry and in spite of wolfing down as much food as possible, he's becoming thinner and more pale. One night he collapses at work - blacking out completely. A doctor examines him and expresses concern that he is becoming anemic from malnutrition. This, of course, can't be so. He's eating more than a 500 lb. circus freak.
Passing by a butcher shop, Jacob decides he needs meat.
Pure and simple.
He buys a juicy steak, fries it up, scarfs it down, but alas, he's still hungry. Eyeing the styrofoam platter his steak rested upon, he is drawn to the droplets of blood dappling it. He is compelled to lap up the glistening, treacly red liquid. After doing just that, he visits his friendly butcher shop again and buys an entire container of blood. He greedily guzzles the hemoglobin treat and feels energized like he hasn't in some time.
Jacob knows now what he needs to survive.
Jacob needs blood.
Such are the opening minutes of Scott Leberecht's Midnight Son, one of the most exciting feature length directorial debuts in years. Given what passes for vampires in these dark days of the ludicrous Twilight franchise, it seems almost insulting to toss this original and affecting horror movie (also scripted by Leberecht) into the same putrid bucket containing Stephenie Meyer's rank turds. Still, we must call a spade a spade and a vampire movie it most certainly is. However, Midnight Son is one of the creepiest, sexiest and truly romantic vampire pictures to grace the screens in many a new moon.
Its unique blend of gorgeously gritty camerawork and equal dollops of both neorealism and existentialism, place the picture closer to the tradition forged by George A. Romero's Martin, Larry Fessenden's Habit and Abel Ferrara's double scoop of the horror brilliance that is Driller Killer and The Addiction.
What Leberecht brings to the table that's all his is a tremendous degree of heart. He manages to shock us, creep us out AND move us. This is an astounding achievement.
When Jacob meets the coke-addicted cigarette girl Mary (Maya Parish) they're instantly attracted to each other - two lost souls in the big city who deserve much more out of life and most certainly deserve each other. As played by the beautiful, sexy, but wholly real Parish, the character of Maya has what Twilight's Kristen Stewart is unable to bring to her vampire-loving heroine - a sense of humour and play. She's a character that the audience falls in love with because she has a perfect blend of bigger-than-life and girl-next-door properties (albeit slightly tarnished by the cards life has thus dealt her).
Jacob too feels like somebody we could know, or even be. He's trapped by circumstance and lonely out of necessity. That he should discover his potential soulmate at the worst possible time isn't just the stuff of great drama, it's rooted in realism - an experience so many have had when they find something or someone special, but the timing is so damned inopportune.
Leberecht's mise-en-scene is superb. He captures strange corners and pockets of Los Angeles with the same eye for detail Larry Fessenden brought to Habit and the city of New York. The choice of locations, shots and interiors never feel stock. It's a side of L.A. we seldom see on film. It's gritty, all right, but instead of the almost stereotypical strolls, Leberecht takes us to some mighty strange places - my favourite being a toxic materials dump in a rear lane of a hospital. Here we're also introduced to one of the weirdest pushers we'll encounter in any recent movie - the sleazy blood peddling orderly (brilliantly played by Joe D. Jonz) who discovers a rare, but needy market for what he can provide.
Happily, Leberecht and his production team had the exquisite taste to cast one of the greatest character actors working in American cinema today. Appearing as Jacob's only living cohort in the office tower, Tracey Walter plays the kindly night janitor who dispenses humour, wisdom and assistance. Walter has been in a million or so cool movies, but it's especially cool to see him in a movie that presents such a unique portrait of L.A. since it happily reminds us of the UFO-obsessed trash man he played in Alex Cox's Repo Man (another great picture with a unique sense of place).
Visually and narratively, Midnight Son leads us confidently into territory we almost never see, but even when things start to feel familiar, Lebrecht throws us a curve ball - not just for the sake of tossing one our way, but because it's rooted in the emotion of the story.
One of my favourite moments falls into a category I like to call "Scenes We'd Like To See But Never Will And When We Do We Are Totally Fucking Delighted". Imagine a lovemaking scene where a sexy gal has just snorted several lines of coke, jumps onto her awaiting lover and mounting him in the throes of passion gets a horrendous coke-influenced nasal cavity burst of blood which geysers onto her boyfriend's face. This would be a shocker in any context, but it's especially delightful since the face smothered in blood belongs to an individual who just happens to be a blood-starved vampire.
To that, I say: "Top that Stephenie Meyer!"
Midnight Son is currently on the film festival circuit and was presented at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2011.