FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVE YET TO SEE “MIDNIGHT”, THIS IS A NON-SPOILER REVIEW.
South Korean entertainment has finally hit the mainstream as of late… but, the country has been making incredible genre fare long before “Parasite” or “Squid Game” hit our shores. From Bong Joon-Ho ‘s “Memories of Murder” and “Mother”, to Jee-Woon Kim’s “I Saw the Devil” and Park Chan-Wook’s “Oldboy” and “Sympathy for Lady Vengeance”… South Korea has produced some of the most intense, atmospheric and horrifying serial killer thrillers of all-time.
So, whenever I hear word of a new film in the genre making its rounds in the festival circuit… I can’t help, but flock to it. And now, here we are, with first-time feature director Oh Seung-Kwan’s “Midnight”, which was just released stateside with little to no, fanfare. And that’s a real shame, because even though it doesn’t reach the heights of the movies previously mentioned… this is still a cut above the rest in the genre and an extremely exciting debut, that deserves to be seen.
WHAT IS MIDNIGHT ALL ABOUT?
Fear grips the country of South Korea as a serial killer, (Wi Ha-Jun), stalks its residents. Kyung-mi, a deaf woman, is out late with her mother when she stumbles upon a young woman bleeding out in a dark alley. Now a witness to the killer’s brutal crime, Kyung-mi is being ruthlessly hunted down. Will she survive or become his victim?
DOES THIS FILM BRING ANYTHING NEW TO ITS BASIC PLOT?
At first glance, we have seen so many films like “Midnight” before. It’s basically a cat-and-mouse thriller with a serial killer hunting down his prey. But, just because we’ve seen this concept before, doesn’t mean it’s ever been done exactly like this. It really all comes down to execution, and “Midnight” takes this basic premise and does so much with it. Every time you think you know where the movie is going, writer-director Kwan pulls the rug out from under you with another shocking turn of events. Just when you think there’s nowhere else he could go with this story… He laughs in your face and pulls a rabbit out of his hat. It might not have all of the bells and whistles of other South Korean genre movies, but it’s lean, mean screenplay keeps the tension tight for the duration of its runtime.
ARE THE CHARACTERS CAPTIVATING?
What I think really makes “Midnight” work, which is a rarity for this type of flick, is that the characters are actually interesting… and you care for them. Rather than some dumb, generic slasher victims… our unexpected leads are a deaf mother and daughter… Who just find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. From the get-go, you understand their close bond, as they both are constantly overlooked by their peers for their impairment… yet it is what gives them their strength, resourcefulness, and resilience. We also are introduced to the older brother of our serial killer’s victim, who is desperately searching for his sister. And while his hubris gets in his way, he proves to be the perfect addition to this story, as his relentless pursuit and ferocity add a much-needed white-knuckle layer.
HOW IS SQUID GAME’S WI HA-JUN IN THE LEAD VILLAIN ROLE?
The star of the show, however, is Squid Game’s Wi-Ha Jun as the sadistic serial killer Do Shik. The talented young actor was impressive in Netflix’s landmark series, but here, he chews the scenery and spits it out with a devilish shit-eating grin on his face. Do Shik is absolutely terrifying and you believe that he is capable of anything and everything. Jun takes this character right to the edge of nearly being cartoonish but shows enough restraint to hold back, right before he gets there. This is an outrageous, wholly satisfying performance, and Jun really makes the most of it, creating one of the more memorable villains I have seen in a while.
HOW IS THE CRAFT ON DISPLAY?
The other highlight of “Midnight”, is the sheer craft on display. I was definitely shocked to learn that this is Oh-Seung Kwan’s directorial debut. Because there is so much precision and polish shown here. The sound design is absolutely phenomenal. Similar to the Oscar-winning work in “Sound of Metal”, it’s used to great effect by really putting you in the shoes of the lead character to experience her silence. The lighting is also first-rate, the shadows of the hauntingly barren backstreets of Seoul, the fear of what is hiding just ahead in the darkness; really add to the tension. And there are not enough words in the dictionary to praise the propulsive camerawork, that makes two people running around on foot feel as adrenaline-pumping as a high-speed car chase.
ARE THERE ANY ISSUES WITH MIDNIGHT THAT HOLD IT BACK?
There are a few issues I have with “Midnight”, that really keep this from being one of the best in the genre. There were a couple of times that I felt like I had to throw all logic out the window, to believe in the circumstances going on. While a lot of the predicaments can be explained through the communication barrier between the public and our two leads; a couple of moments just felt really far-fetched, like they were stretching this plot device too thin.
And I also, as depraved as this sounds, wish that we had seen a little bit more of what this serial killer was capable of. While Wi-Ha Jun perfectly embodies this character… I would have liked for him to have left more victims in his wake, for the violence to be more palpable… to Amp up the stakes even higher. Because of this, it doesn’t leave as much of an impact as it could have. And in turn, feels a little bit less memorable than those classics mentioned at the beginning of the review.
Even so, Midnight is an absolute banger. And I hope genre enthusiasts seek this one out because they will definitely not be disappointed.
Midnight is now streaming on VOD.
For more Reviews, make sure to Stay Tuned to That Hashtag Show!