Midnight Special, film review: ‘Darker re-telling of Disney’s Escape to Witch Mountain’

Midnight Special. Picture: Ben Rothstein

Midnight Special. Picture: Ben Rothstein - Credit: Archant

Our critic wonders if he’s missing something after watching tale of a child with supernatural powers

Alton (Lieberher) is a kid with special powers. When his eyes go laser white he can tear down walls, and knock out US spy satellites.

He’s a kid a lot of people see things in. The leader of the Christian cult (Shepard) he has escaped from, sees him as a messiah.

The FBI see him as a potential weapon. His parents (Shannon and Dunst) see him as a frightened kid who needs protecting.

And me? I keep looking at him wondering if I was missing something, or was this really just an incredibly earnest and po-faced version of Escape to Witch Mountain.

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Initially, the low-key seriousness with which the film treats its sci-fi elements is intriguing.

The plot seems to be picking at modern concerns about doomsday cults, over-reaching government control, and even perhaps our fears about a young generation whose lives are so shaped by information technology that they are alien to us.

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Everybody in the cast is carrying on like something vaguely momentous is happening. For the most part though, it just seems like a darker, adult retelling of Witch Mountain, a clunky Disney children’s film from the mid ‘70s, in which two young children with supernatural powers find themselves ostracised and have to make it back to their own people at the location of the title.

The first hour leads you to expect something serious and thought provoking, but in the second hour the film changes tack, suggesting it’s all just a bit of fun really: characters get shot, but seem to just run it off after a few minutes.

It doesn’t help that – spoiler alert – there is some major production design overlap with Tomorrowland in the last part.

Nichols, a David Gordon Green protégé, has previously made Shotgun Stories and Mud, two standard indie films about rural life in Texas.

But in Take Shelter, he showed he was prepared to mix some CGI into the traditional indie movie formula.

Here he appears to be trying to move into the mainstream genre market, while maintaining his indie credibility – he’s reaching for the stars while trying to keep the mud on his boots.

Rating: 2/5 stars.

For a review of the blu-ray release of Robert Redford’s ‘70s political thriller Three Day of The Condor go to halfmanhalfcritic.weebly.com.

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