DIRECTOR Scott Leberecht WRITER Scott Leberecht STARS Zak Kilberg; Maya Parish; Jo D. Jonz DVD 11 February
An impressively restrained portrait of addiction, Midnight Son is quite the feature debut from director and writer Scott Leberecht. The majority of his work previously spent in visual effects — including as art director on Sleepy Hollow — he opts, surprisingly, for a subtle approach that uses the visible consequences of violence minimally, a complement as opposed to driving force, favouring the everyday life of his central character, Jacob, over all else. The fact that Jacob is a vampire is almost irrelevant, the film eschewing many of the subgenre’s classic tropes to present something more akin to a quietly observed character study.
And it is certainly involving from the off. An almost constant soundtrack lends a hypnotic quality that highlights the daze Jacob lives his life in, underlining the sense of loneliness of a man who dwells alone in a carefully sealed apartment that doesn’t allow light in — he has a skin condition that means he burns in sunlight, sporting some horrific scars from his childhood — and works nights as a security guard. A nagging ache in his stomach he discovers is only satiated by blood, which he keeps satisfied by visiting an understanding butcher, until he inadvertently tastes human blood for the first time, courtesy of a nosebleed from Mary, a woman who has an addiction of her own. There are consequences…
What really works about Midnight Son is how understated it is, the story unfolding very slowly. Zak Kilberg’s performance as Jacob is detached; the character doesn’t really appear to be there, his voice bordering on monotonic at times. It is an excellent portrayal that serves the idea that we are observing a mental illness, the depression that accompanies addiction. A cold, blue palette complements this sense of detachment, creating an empathy with Jacob; it’s an emotional investment that is manipulated well by his eventual meeting with Mary, who is just as lost as he is. Their relationship provides an interesting subtext here, as love helps Jacob find out what he is, which he will likely force onto Mary, his addiction overriding hers to create a codependence.
There are some negatives. When Jacob finds himself manipulated by a corrupt nurse he is depending upon for a supply of human blood, a change in pace jars, taking the film to a thriller territory that doesn’t quite sit with the slow-burning subtlety worked so hard for prior. This strand does however provide some strong imagery, one shot particularly striking: an old man lies on a bed, completely drained of blood, with tubes sticking out of him. It’s a nice touch that is visually very effective and provides some dark humour — the film is not entirely bereft of it — but, again, such moments detract from the subtlety that is Midnight Son‘s strength. The soundtrack also leads a little too much at points, however this is a minor quibble, the score overall another of the film’s strengths, rather effectively setting the tone early on.
This change in tack would derail many a film, however Leberecht so carefully crafts his first act, the impact is more a distraction than anything. Kilberg’s performance serves as a large factor in this; as Jacob is swept along with the drama, it would be easy to play him more animatedly, but the actor deftly holds onto the aloofness that is so very important for the character. Midnight Son comes highly recommended.