In relationships, it is often said that opposites attract. After Midnight proves the same might be said for genre films. Starting as a romance, the movie opens with Hank (Jeremy Gardner) and Abby (Brea Grant), a young couple in the honeymoon stage of a new relationship. It is Abby’s birthday and Hank has brought her out into the country to his rundown family house for a night of romance. The couple seems blissfully happy. The film then quickly cuts to present day. It is dark once more and Hank, now alone and unhinged, shoots at an unseen beast destroying his front door. This jarring juxtaposition sets the mood for this genre blending film which takes the risk of being both a romance and a horror and largely succeeds.
The movie concentrates on Hank, a country boy who wakes up one day to find his girlfriend of ten years gone, leaving only a note behind. Hank is visibly distraught by Abby’s refusal to come home or answer any of his calls and has frequent flashbacks to happier times in their relationship. Making things worse is the monster that has begun attacking Hank’s house each night since Abby left. Large scratch marks on his door, a snarling growl, and a quick glimpse in the woods, are the only signs of the beast that torments Hank each night. The local sheriff (Justin Benson) is convinced too much stress and drinking is leading Hank to see things that aren’t there. His friends, while supportive and concerned, are dubious that the monster is anything more than a large animal. It’s at this point the audience is left to wonder are they watching an actual monster or a man in the midst of a mental breakdown?
One of the strengths of After Midnight is its ability to maintain tension. There are the expected scares when the monster emerges from the woods each night, but other jumps happen at the most unexpected times. Throughout the film Hank often has flashbacks to happier times in his relationship with Abby. These dreamlike sequences lull the audience into a false sense of security and just when they forget this is also a horror film the scene will suddenly cut to black with the cue of a snarl or gunshot. After this happens the first time it is almost impossible to relax during these flashbacks. Much like Hank, the audience loses their ability to put their guard down and enjoy the happiness of a memory for fear of what will come next.
The cinematography in After Midnight (Christian Stella) makes it an appealing watch. The film is filled with wide frame shots that manage to show the beauty of Hank’s environment while emphasizing how alone he is since Abby’s departure. Along with the visuals a carefully curated soundtrack adds another layer to the story with lyrics often coinciding to what is occurring on screen. The visuals and music combine to give the film a distinct mood that helps link Hank and Abby’s love story and the monster at the door.
With this film co-directors Jeremy Gardner and Christian Stella once again prove that they are a duo to watch. The two had previously worked together on the comedy Tex Montana Will Survive! and horror film The Battery. As with many low budget films, Gardner and Stella took on a multitude of jobs while bringing their vision to life. In addition to directing, Gardner wrote the script and starred as the male lead while Stella served as the film’s cinematographer. Together they have managed to combine their different strengths and personalities into a singular vision that should leave audiences excited to see what they come up with next.
After Midnight is a film that manages to examine a relationship at a breaking point and a man on the edge in a genuine and heartfelt way. While the questions posed at the beginning of the film (Where is Abby? Is this monster real?) wind up being more intriguing than their ultimate answers the movie is still a success in what it set out to do. While horror and romance do not seem like two genres that would blend well together, After Midnight manages to make it work. As it turns out, maybe relationship and monster stories have more in common than any of us would like to admit.
Check out After Midnight which premieres on Shudder on February 11.
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