To be honest, I was expecting more monster and less romantic drama when I tuned into After Midnight. But I’ve seen enough A24 horror films (though this isn’t one) to prepare myself to enjoy a small horror movie hiding within a non-horror-movie that could exist on its own and is also well-acted and rather beautifully shot, with a good soundtrack. And all I can start off by saying is: MORE MOVIES WITH HORROR ELEMENTS IN THEM, PLEASE.
While it’s fun to watch, After Midnight kind of almost justifies its monster subplot, which arises after main character Hank (Jeremy Gardner) mopes about his crumbling house after his longtime girlfriend Abby (Brea Grant, who directed 12 Hour Shift) just up and leaves. Not only does Hank have to figure out what went wrong and how – or if – he’s going to move on, he has to contend with said monster trying to break into his house every night.
Half of the movie is an initially striking formula of cutesy lovey-dovey flashback of our main couple which then creatively cuts to Hank either falling out of bed or picking at his filthy feet. But this goes on too long and we get shown too many rosy memories before we finally get a flashback that blatantly shows the cracks in Hank and Abby’s relationship.
For this kind of film, the performances are crucial, and everyone delivers – especially Henry Zebrowski as Hank’s scene-stealing best mate Wade. Its Georgia setting, too, is its own character – as a stark foreigner I really can’t believe that everyone has a gun and listens to country music without irony (a sentiment that is expressed on-screen). While I can’t help but think it’s creepy when a director directs himself in a lead role that involves a lot of making out, this was mitigated by the fact that Gardner seems unskilled at kissing, at least on-screen. I’ve not seen such weird making-out since that kid that tried to eat Tina’s face in Bob’s Burgers.
Films with horror elements aren’t for everyone because someone’s going to complain that it’s not horror enough. But I personally love it when genres mesh, blur or trip over each other to create something fresh and unpredictable. Amid some iffy pacing, After Midnight has a few small bits to say about pre-40 existentialism and societal roles, but the slow build-up mutes some of its impact. Still, it’s an intriguing way to spend 80 minutes this time of year.