The Midnighters: A new year of fear
Lindsey (Alex Essoe) and Jeff Pittman (Dylan McTee) are a struggling young couple driving home on New Year’s Eve when they hit a pedestrian on a lonely stretch of road. In a panic, they bring the body home in a desperate attempt to cover up the crime – a situation made more complicated because Lindsey’s wayward sister Hannah (Perla Haney-Jardine) is staying with them.
Lindsey and Jeff soon discover that the victim wasn’t just a random passerby, but was specifically looking for them. Before they can ascertain the reason, Lindsey is visited by one “Detective Smith” (Ward Horton), who has an agenda of his own – and it’s not a pleasant one.
As mistrust blossoms into full-blown paranoia, each character is forced to confront his or her own secrets, with each one’s life hanging in the balance. Clearly, this is not just another New Year’s Eve.
Steeped in atmosphere and simmering with suspense, The Midnighters, now in release from IFC Films, marks the debut feature of writer Alston Ramsay and his brother, director Julius Ramsay, both originally from North Carolina.
The film opens April 6 exclusively at RED Cinemas in Greensboro. For the 5:15 p.m. screening April 7, Alston will be on hand, along with brother Burke H. Ramsay, who served as executive producer.
Julius has worked as an editor and director on such popular series’ as “The Walking Dead,” “Battlestar: Galactica,” “Scream: The Series,” and even “American Idol,” earning three Emmy nominations for his editing work.
Alston’s career path was more circuitous. He was a speechwriter and adviser to Secretary of State Robert Gates, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, and General David Petraeus. But like his brother, he’s always loved film. Julius (who is five years older), frequently subjected his younger brother to films when they were kids – “including some that I shouldn’t have been watching at that age, like slasher movies,” he laughed.
For their maiden cinematic voyage, they were determined to make something modest and manageable – yet effective and entertaining. “I’ve worked in genre television for many years,” Julius said. “I’ve done horror, thriller, science-fiction … but for The Midnighters, we didn’t want to rely on any supernatural conventions. That was really our goal. The monsters (here) are human in nature. We set out to make a character-driven noir thriller with a fast plot.”
Comparisons to Alfred Hitchcock and (naturally) the Coen Brothers are not unwarranted, but Julius also points out one of his personal favorites: Danny Boyle’s 1994 debut feature Shallow Grave. Twists and turns abound, nothing is quite what it seems, and there’s a palpable dash of dark humor incorporated into the mix.
As meticulous and methodical as they were in preparing The Midnighters (which was originally titled Revelers), it wasn’t easy.
“Absolutely not,” Julius laughed. “Anyone who says making their first feature was easy is either lying or made a really bad movie!”
Once momentum started building, there was only one thing to do. “Come hell or high water; we’ll start shooting Feb. 6, and that’s what we did,” Julius said. “We’re making it – no matter what. That’s a great motivator.”
Alston concurred. “When you put a date on the calendar, everything becomes more real. It becomes a real thing very, very quickly. It’s a real thing willed into existence.”
With its confined setting and ensemble cast, The Midnighters has an almost theatrical quality, not unlike Frederick Knott’s Wait Until Dark or Ira Levin’s Deathtrap.
“It was always intended as a film, but we did a workshop reading, and it was fascinating to see it done that way,” Julius said. “We could tell (from that) that the characters and storyline were working.”
Among the most memorable characters are Andrew Rothenberg (with whom Julius worked with on “The Walking Dead”) as Officer Verone and Joseph Anderson as Officer Campbell, a pair of neighborhood patrolmen who always turn up at the worst possible time. They’re not necessarily comic relief. They know that something’s going on …
“The inspiration was Rosencrantz and Guildenstern,” Alston said. “They’re kind of outside, kind of inside, kind of funny …”
At the 2017 Horrible Imaginings Film Festival (held in San Diego), The Midnighters won awards for Best Feature, Best Actress in a Feature Film (Essoe), and Best Screenplay of a Feature Film. At the Nightmares Film Festival (held in Columbus, Ohio), the film earned nominations for Best Thriller Feature and Best Screenplay Feature.
Although the film is accurately billed as “A Ramsay Brothers Film,” they did not share directorial chores as Joel and Ethan Coen does. Their duties were more clearly defined. “Once on set, I consider my role is how to best help Julius,” said Alston, who was also the unit production manager. “It was his set. He’s the director.”
With Julius being older, surely Alston wouldn’t try to influence his directing, would he?
“He tried,” Julius laughed.
“I tried,” Alston confirmed.
See Mark Burger’s reviews of current movies on Burgervideo.com. © 2018, Mark Burger.
The Midnighters opens Friday, April 6 at RED Cinemas, 1305 Battleground Ave., Greensboro. For advance tickets or more information, call (336) 230-1732. Alston and Burke Ramsay are scheduled to attend the 5:15 pm screening Saturday. The official Midnighters website is http://www.midnightersfilm.com/.