Sitges Review: 'After Midnight' is Mumblecore Meets Monster Horror
by Alex Billington
October 9, 2019
Nothing like a good ol' fashioned monster movie. After Midnight is the latest film written and co-directed by filmmaker Jeremy Gardner (of The Battery and Tex Montana Will Survive!), produced by fellow genre filmmakers Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead. This collaboration, and the resulting low budget horror flick, feels a bit like the early days of the Duplass Brothers. I remember seeing their early films (like Baghead in 2008) at the Sundance Film Festival. I just wanted them to keep making more, because even though they didn't make the best films, there was a kind of remarkable creativity within their filmmaking. The way they made all these fun films on a tiny budget, using bland throwaway locations and not much else besides their own ingenuity to tell a story on the screen. Sometimes that's all you need, as is the case with After Midnight.
After Midnight is a couple of different films all rolled into one - it's a breakup drama / romantic comedy, it's a low budget creature feature, and it's a funny mumblecore film. But it doesn't need to be labeled as such, because it's a very unique creation all its own. We're introduced to Hank, played by Jeremy Gardner, and Abby, played by Brea Grant, who arrive at an old country home for some relaxation. One day she suddenly disappears, and from that day on Hank has been attacked nightly by a vicious creature. He has tried to kill it, with no luck, and has tried to get anyone to believe him about it, with no luck. In the meantime, his friend stops by and reminisces with him about the good ol' days. The mumblecore conversations are the best part, while the flashback romance scenes are the worst; unfortunately the film has a hard time balancing all this.
As enjoyable as most of After Midnight is, it's bogged down by two major issues. The first is that it teases a monster, and promises us a monster movie throughout, but it really is not a monster movie. Well — it is, sure. There are a few scenes, and there is a monster, but not enough of it. It's obvious the filmmakers know this, as the whole point of the film was to make something on a tiny budget and still make it a worthwhile watch. The rest of the scenes, and the interactions between Hank and his friends, are good. They're funny. They're honest. The only other issue is that the brightly-lit flashback scenes are a bit too sappy and a bit too on-the-nose in the way of "remembering the good times". It's supposed to be a romantic comedy, but there's no comedy in these scenes and playing them as nothing but love clashes with the tone of the rest of the film.
Despite these issues, I still think it is a worthwhile watch. Just like with the low budget Duplass films years ago, there is something to appreciate about filmmaking on a low budget. And storytelling on a low budget. It forces filmmakers to focus on humanity, the characters and people that make up the story, and not on some gimmick like a monster. This plays like a perfect Sundance midnight film built mostly on conversations and tricky editing. I wanted more out of it, but by the end, I thought hey this is really what they're going for and it works. It works well. They make it very easy to enjoy. Kick back in the recliner you found on the street, open a cheap beer, put the shotgun back on the wall, and enjoy After Midnight. It's a fun one to grab drinks and chat about with others after. There's at least one crazy scene that everyone will have everyone buzzing.
Alex's Sitges 2019 Rating: 6.5 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing