Another near-perfect collaboration between Jeremy Gardner and Christian Stella, After Midnight surprises and beguiles everyone who sees it; full of priceless moments and astute writing.
After Midnight (previously called Something Else) surely crosses more genres than I’ve seen in any one single film before; and surprisingly, it works. Where Jeremy Gardner’s first film, The Battery, was a buddy movie disguised as a zombie film, this one is a drama about a relationship in crisis disguised as a monster movie. Anyone going through complicated times in their relationship will cry sometimes, laugh sometimes, have spells of hiding away from the world, and spells of looking stronger than they feel. The genre moods in After Midnight flow with these ups and downs, generally reinforcing the turbulence the main character experiences.
This is Hank, played by the writer and co-director Jeremy Gardner himself. He has been content in a loving relationship for ten years; but since Abby (Brea Grant, Dexter, Dead Night) suddenly disappeared, leaving just a note, he’s no longer quite so comfortable. His friends hardly see him, and he’s been hearing sounds of a huge animal in the woods, after a while, staying up late to defend the house from its approach. But hey, at least it’s giving him something else to focus on, because thinking about the emptiness of the house, and why Abby might have gone, is way too difficult.
Through rose-tinted flashbacks, we can see that Hank has been comfortable for too long; and too comfortable to see that Abby’s needs had changed. Their dreams and moods used to match, but while Abby has become restless, Hank appears to be reluctant to grow up. It’s undeniable that they love each other deeply, so Hank is blind to any problem; then when she is no longer there, he has to accept there must have been some kind of problem, but cannot get his head around what it could be… a bit like that monster in the woods. Facing his fear (either kind) is neither easy nor natural, of course; but the time comes when confronting it is the only thing to do. (It actually reminded me of Colossal at times: that also had a metaphor in its “creature feature”, but was much more demanding than After Midnight.)
Sorry if that all sounds kind of deep: sure, there’s a lot to process if you feel like it, but After Midnight is essentially sweet and affectionate. I’m talking about Hank’s loving memories of Abby, of course, but also the warmth and support from his friends. They can only humor him about the monster, but at least they do: it’s better than dismissing his concern. Justin Benson, Henry Zebrowski, and others provide a well-rounded circle of friends, who each do what they can for this lonely man with very individual approaches.
It’s weird, but if I tell you this is a film made up of music, sunlight, and romance, with some occasional tension, well that doesn’t really sound like a monster movie, does it? Songs are used to mark milestones in the story with great effect, whether karaoke or serenade; they didn’t simply present the mood of those moments, but also made the whole story extra warm and intimate: each singer sang to me. Sunlight isn’t just used as a spotlight, as through Hank’s door above, but its pretty much everywhere (except for those few nighttime scenes); we don’t have the huge open landscapes that I recall from The Battery, but every outdoor scene is truly vibrant, making the interior of the house feel even drier and emptier. Christian Stella, the other co-director, seems to bring richness and texture to the pair’s films, while Gardner brings the writing and character.
After Midnight made me laugh out loud at times — very unusual! — and jump (along with most of the audience) and actually shed tears. What other film can claim all three? It had its UK premiere at Mayhem Film Festival, which I think truly fitting: the film touched on horror, via several other genres; and the same could be said of Mayhem as an event too.