Written by Greg B
After the cinematic blitz that was the IFI horrorthon 2012, I needed a day off in order to sort through the thirteen movies I watched over the two days that I was in attendance. The festival was certainly a mixed bag, with contemporary Indie horrors scheduled alongside some old school classics. However of all of the flicks I sat through, Scott Leberect’s independent debut feature Midnight Son seemed to stick out in my mind. Like any self-respecting genre movie enthusiast I’ve always had something of a passion for horror, but on the whole vampires have never really done it for me. Hordes of zombies and the creeping internal terror of body horror are far more likely to scare me than the gothic flights of fancy that one associates with images of the classic vampire.
Midnight Son eschews any exotic locations and fangs in what is a quiet, slow burning film. The plot follows Jacob (Zak Kilberg), a quiet pasty-faced nighthawk who works as a security guard. He lives a mostly solitary existence; when he’s not working night shifts, hes painting landscapes in his dark, basement apartment. You see because of a rare skin condition, Jacob can’t look at sunlight or let it touch his skin. But this isn’t even the biggest problem that the skinny kid has to put up with. He regularly feels rabid and painful hunger pains that just won’t subside no matter how many microwaveable pizzas he shoves down his throat. After ingesting some raw meat he realises that what he really craves is blood, blood by the bucketfull. Despite this, Jacob manages to make a friend in Mary, (Maya Parish) a glow stick wearing, cigarettes and candy seller. But despite the two damaged souls connecting, Jacob attempts not to open up to the coke sniffing, waif like disco girl. After Jacob inadvertently has some of Mary’s blood smeared on his face while the two are making out, his body feels a sensation like nothing before. Has he opened up the gates to some very dark desires? And will Mary find out that his ‘serious condition’ isn’t just a bad case of anaemia?
Midnight Son’s wide shots of empty L.A. streets have a lonely iciness to them, while Lyn Moncrief’s Dion Beebe-esque digital cinematography is perfect in representing Jacob’s quiet detachment from the world around him. Most of the film is shot at night and on any occasion that daylight does fall into the frame, Moncrief makes sure that it does so with a squint inducing intensity. Little to no back story is given about how and when Jacob was first afflicted with his condition (although we are made aware that it has affected him since he was a child) and this has the effect of keeping the film’s protagonist somewhat mysterious. Indeed Jacob is as confused about his desires and cravings as the audience are. At one point he re-stages a scene from Fright Night involving a wooden cross in order to deduce whether or not he really is a vampire, although his character never once utters the word over the course of the film.
The movies concrete locales and Jacob’s regular jaunts to the all night butchers for some buckets of fresh animal blood have the effect of sucking any shred of glamour from the vampire mythos. Instead, vampirism is portrayed as a crippling addiction like any other. When, under the cover of darkness, Jacob attempts to break into a padlocked bio-waste bin behind a city hospital, an orderly (Jo D. Jonz) catches him in the act. But instead of chasing away the crazy man, the hospital worker gives him a free sample of waste blood from the bank. While Jacob reckons he’s just made a new open-minded buddy, its clear that he is simply being groomed into a kind of bloodsucking version of a crack slave. Mary’s ongoing struggle with cocaine over the course of the film also adds to the weight of this theme. At several points in the film, it is hinted that L.A. is actually littered with vampires, fellow lost souls who try to feed their insatiable hunger without having to resort to killing the odd hobo or two. This aspect of the flick reminded me of Herzog’s re-imagining of the vampire as a pathetic, lonely creature in his version of Nosferatu.
Instead of being an invitation to a never-ending sex and blood fuelled party, Midnight Son portrays vampirism as hard work, and while it isn’t a flawless film by any stretch of the imagination, its quiet, moody ambience and fine lead performances mean that even when watched amongst thirteen other movies, this one stands out as something special.