For some time now, JJ Abrams has been considered "the next Spielberg", but in the talented Jeff Nichols - the man behind Mud and Take Shelter and Shotgun Stories - he has some very strong competition. But with Nichols' intriguing and mysterious sci-fi chase movie Midnight Special, Abrams had better be watching his back.
The plot is simple, minimal and anything but straightforward. Two men - Roy (Michael Shannon) and Lucas (Joel Edgerton) - are driving through the night, with eight-year-old Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) in the back seat, wearing blue goggles. The three of them are on the run, but who are they on the run from? And why? And what exactly is with this rather unusual little boy named Alton?
We soon learn that Roy, with the aid of best friend Lucas, has snatched his son Alton from The Ranch, a strange religious cult in rural Texas. The Ranch has set two members of the congregation on their tail, and the FBI - especially agent Paul Sevier (Adam Driver), who appears to know just how special Alton is. The audience is drip-fed information, but it works. It requires paying attention (a tough ask for most modern film audiences) as we slowly come to realise just how special Alton is, and just what he means to his father, and his mother (Kirsten Dunst) and just why The Ranch are keen to get him back in their grasp.
Midnight Special feels very much like a throwback to the films of the 1970s and 80s, in a good way. There's a touch of Starman about it, and elements of ET (Alton does sometimes remond you of Elliot) and Close Encounters. There are strong performances throughout, particularly from Shannon and Kirsten Dunst, as Alton's mother, with superb support from Edgerton and Driver. Nichols and his cast work very hard to build theis world, exersising considerable restraint, and and when the finale arrives, it pays off big time. But it's more than just a good chase movie with a big dollop of mystery; it's a film about family, and fathers and sons, and relationships, and just how far a parent will go to protect a child. It's a deeply emotional drama that will move you as it thrills you. Midnight Special is a very special film indeed.