Considering its fiendishly clever twists and turns, it’s startling to find out that Midnighters was written by first-time screenwriter Alston Ramsay, who previously worked as a speechwriter for Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, General David Petraeus and Secretary of Homeland Security Jeb Johnson. It makes one imagine with horror the scripts that may be sitting in the desk drawers of those currently serving in the Trump administration.
Directed by Alston’s brother Julius Ramsay, whose credits include helming and editing episodes of The Walking Dead, Midnighters is a low-budget film noir that benefits greatly from its tautness and lack of pretension. As with so many similarly themed thrillers, this effort demonstrates yet again that the cover-up can be worse than the crime.
The story begins on New Year’s Eve, when married couple Lindsey (Alex Essoe) and Jeff (Dylan McTee) are driving home to their recently acquired fixer-upper New England house after a party where they both had too much to drink. While driving distractedly, Jeff accidentally runs over a man walking in the middle of the remote road. They put the man in their car, since there’s no cellphone service to call an ambulance, but he expires moments later. And that’s when the couple makes the first of many mistakes: Jeff decides to bring the body back to their house to give themselves time to sober up before they figure out what to do.
Needless to say, things only get more complicated from there. They discover their address on a slip of paper in the dead man’s pocket, indicating that he was headed to their home for unknown reasons. After they get home and put the car in the garage, Lindsey’s younger sister Hannah (Perla Haney-Jardine) shows up and things go even more downhill.
The next morning, a pair of cops (Andrew Rothenberg, Joseph Anderson) appear at their front door to ask some questions, with Lindsey and Jeff seemingly bent on proving they’re the worst liars ever. But it’s later, when the smooth-talking, handsome Detective Smith (Ward Horton) shows up, that the proceedings become truly baroque. Suffice it to say that not everyone is who they say they are, that secret motivations and alliances are revealed and that a lot of money is involved.
While its convoluted storyline never fully convinces, Midnighters never lets up on the tension, making it easy to go along with its contrivances. Working with an obviously low budget, debut helmer Ramsay stages the occasionally gory proceedings cleanly and efficiently, aided by Alexander Alexandrov’s impressive widescreen lensing and Chris Westlake’s suitably tense musical score. The relatively unknown performers are fully convincing in their not particularly fleshed-out roles, with Horton especially effective as the slick detective whose charms are deceptive.
Midnighters hardly reinvents the wheel, but it represents an excellent Hollywood calling card for its sibling creators.
Production company: Graystone Pictures
Distributor: IFC Midnight
Cast: Alex Essoe, Perla Haney-Jardine, Dylan McTee, Ward Horton, Andrew Rothenberg, Joseph Anderson
Director: Julius Ramsay
Screenwriter: Alston Ramsey
Producers: Alston Ramsay, Julius Ramsay
Executive producer: Burke H. Ramsay
Director of photography: Alexander Alexandrov
Production designer: Alison Melillo
Editors: Julius Ramsay, Jeff Betancourt
Composer: Chris Westlake
Costume designer: Sara Mills