Thursday, November 08, 2012

Night Life

One of the things I've been noticing about some of my horror movie selections this October is a tendency among low budget horrors to delay their horrors as long as they can. I understand this, of course. This is the soul of so-called "slow burn" horror, in which tension mounts from the outset, or in which the filmmakers spend some time getting to know their characters before pushing them over the cliff. This can work wonderfully in the right hands--Ti West is good at this among currently working horror filmmakers--but in less sure hands, it can result in movies that are kind of a slog. When I see a movie that plays like this, I sometimes think of the wisdom Samuel Z. Arkoff, who once claimed that all a good (horror) movie needed was a good first reel, a good last reel, and that what's in between doesn't matter. I was thinking about this while I was watching Midnight Son (2011, directed by Scott Leberecht), a film that opts for the slow burn. Like many contemporary American slow burn horrors, this one plays out like a mumblecore indie drama for most of its length before erupting in its last act as a full-blooded vampire movie.

Jacob is a lonely nighttime security guard. He has a medical condition that prevents him from going outside when the sun is shining. It burns him. He's also malnourished. He eats like a horse, but it does him no good, much to the mystification of his doctor. One night, he discovers that the blood left at the bottom of a package of meat satisfies his burning hunger and soon, he's living off the blood he gets from the local butcher. Jacob meets the equally lonely bartender, Mary, who has a coke habit, and the two hit it off. Their first date finds them at Jacob's apartment, coupling in a frenzy. Mary has a large snort before she comes to him, enough so that her nose bleeds. The blood gets in Jacob's mouth and something fires in his brain. Shortly afterward, he's getting his blood from the back door of a hospital rather than from the butcher. Unfortunately, his behavior is getting more violent, too, and he's stronger. Soon, his life explodes into violence...

At the start, Midnight Son could be mistaken for a Twilight knock off, with its emphasis on the romantic travails of young vampires in love. This notion is exploded as the film goes on by the various foibles the film sees fit to bestow upon its characters. These aren't idealized fantasy film characters. They're recognizable as flawed human beings in spite of the fang and claw mayhem at the end of the movie. It's a closer cousin to films like Abel Ferara's The Addiction or (more to the point) George Romero's Martin, in which vampirism isn't romanticized and in which the practical problems of actually being a vampire are examined in close detail. In this regard, Midnight Son is pretty good. It extrapolates from its premise in a way that seems fresh (no small feat in a subgenre that has all but sowed salt in its own soil over the years). The word, "vampire" is never uttered in the film that I can recall.

The visual aesthetic of Midnight Son is that of a washed out acid trip. This film's color palette looks as if the whole thing was filmed through a bottle of formaldehyde. Nobody looks healthy here.  There are also a fair number of wandering camera shots that are so common in indie films these days, much to my annoyance. It could be worse, I guess. I like the actors. They do a good job, particularly Maya Parish as Mary. I can live with the structure of the film, too, because even though I squirmed a bit through the first two thirds, the payoff in blood at the end was worth it.

This is a portrait of urban anomie. Jacob is rootless, in part because of his condition, but also because he's soul tired from living in a world that has no place for him. He's an ideal match for Mary, who is similarly world weary, a fact that is leading her into a drug habit. The transformational crucible the film puts these characters in won't break them; they're broken already. Their relationship is more desperate than passionate, though there are definitely romantic touches. The paintings of sunrises that Jacob paints, for instance. But that's not the main thrust of this film. Romance? How does that persist in the face of baser hungers?

Current tally: 32 films.
24 first time viewings.

One More Straggler

Rev. Anna Dynamite finishes off her October with three Halloween favorites over at Dreams in the Bitch House.

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