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Film / Midnight Special

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Midnight Special is a 2016 sci-fi/chase movie written and directed by Jeff Nichols.

Alton Meyer, an 8-year-old boy with supernatural abilities, has been reported missing. In reality, his father Roy, along with Roy's lifelong friend Lucas, have taken the boy from the religious compound where he previously lived and gone on the run. Meanwhile, they are being pursued by members of the religious sect and agents of the FBI and NSA, both of whom are pursuing Alton for their own ends.

The movie stars Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Jaeden Lieberher, Adam Driver, and Sam Shepard. It was given a limited release beginning on March 18. Trailers can be seen here and here.

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  • Actor Allusion:
    • Alton asks about Kryptonite, to which his father says "it's made up". His father is played by Michael Shannon, who played General Zod in Man of Steel.
    • Sevier mentions a government codeword called 'red saber'. Adam Driver found out just as filming began that he had been cast as Kylo Ren in The Force Awakens - who wields a red light saber.
  • Advertised Extra: Sam Shepard is given the And Starring credit on the film's poster, yet only appears at the very beginning of the film, with his character giving instructions to some of his followers on how they need to recover Alton, followed immediately afterwards by his interview with the FBI.
  • Ambiguous Ending: The last shot of the movie is Roy looking off into the distance, his eyes glowing with a faint light. It's implied the government is testing him to see if he's like Alton.
  • Apocalypse Maiden: Alton has the power to cause earthquakes and bring satellites down. But once he gets control of his powers, he's fine.
  • Applied Phlebotinum: The buildings that are revealed by the end are certainly made of this.
  • Author Appeal: Jeff Nichols wrote the film based off his own experiences on becoming a father.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Alton rejoins his people, leaving both his parents as fugitives. Although Roy and Lucas are now in custody, Sarah is on the run and it's left open whether Alton can ever see his parents again.
  • Blue Is Heroic: Alton's powers are color-coded in blue. He, Roy and Sara wear blue outfits all while they're protecting their son from the FBI and the cult members.
  • Bulletproof Vest: Lucas has two, and they were put to good use throughout the movie.
  • Childhood Friends: Lucas and Roy. What's notable is that Lucas is implied to be Roy's Only Friend and the only other person he knows from outside the ranch.
  • Crystal Spires and Togas: No togas, but the mysterious buildings that appear at the climax of the film definitely have the crystals spires look down.
  • Cult: The Ranch, the religious compound where Roy, Sarah, and Alton used to live, which is raided by the FBI at the outset of the movie. They believe that Alton is foretelling the apocalypse and is the only one who can save them from it. To be fair though, Alton's powers do give them some reason to believe this, and, unlike most cults, in the face of an FBI raid they simply go along peacefully and (for the most part) answer their questions rather than breaking out their guns and refusing to say anything.
    • Cult Defector: Roy, Sarah and Elden all left The Ranch prior to the movie, partially due to Pastor Meyers taking Roy and Sarah's son away. At the beginning of the movie, Roy has spirited away his son from the Ranch and is on the run from both them and the police.
  • Damsel out of Distress: Sarah is briefly knocked out and cuffed to a shower handle. She quickly regains consciousness and frees herself.
  • Determinator: Roy, Lucas and Sarah are dead set on getting Alton to safety.
  • Diabolus ex Machina: Lucas was driving without incident with the light off, and almost crashed into a car (whose driver was unconscious and possibly forgot to use the parking brake, leaving her car to slide to the middle of the road). He narrowly avoids the collision, but a truck then crashes into said car. Moments later, a state trooper shows up, leading to a confrontation.
  • Dye or Die: The last we see of Sarah is her cutting and dyeing her hair to conceal her identity.
  • Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: Alton is a rare male example.
  • Establishing Character Moment: The shooting, early on:
    • Lucas trying to reason with a state trooper, then shooting him when he's forced to, but only in the chest, where he's supposed to have a flak jacket. It establishes him as a law-abiding citizen, reluctant to hurt anyone else, but ready to do it if needed. It later echoes when he explains that his own job is also being a state trooper.
    • Roy telling Lucas to "just shoot him", several times until he does, then looking sad. It establishes him as a Papa Wolf determined to do whatever he has to for Alton, but still feeling bad about it.
  • Eyes Off The Road: After driving with night vision goggles for an extended period of time, Lucas takes them off and gets distracted for a few seconds. Sure enough, he almost hits a car in the middle of the road.
  • Fat and Skinny: Doak and Levi.
  • Friendship Moment: Roy offers Lucas a chance to leave them. He doesn't.
  • Genre Throwback: While promoting the film, the cast specifically called this a throwback to the likes of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. There are a couple of references to the original Superman films as well. The title is a reference to this as well, the term "midnight special" usually being in reference to the kind of cult-classic sci-fi B-movies that would be played on TV late at night.
  • Glowing Eyes: Alton's eyes glow with an unearthly light, and offer supernatural visions to people who look at them.
  • Heavenly Blue: When the 'other world' is shown, its dome of light has blue edges to it.
  • Hollywood Darkness: Averted. Rather than just throwing a blue filter on, much of the movie takes place at night and has careful uses of light and shadow to reflect it.
  • Idiot Ball:
    • The soldiers at the checkpoint fail to detain a speeding vehicle which has gone off road, don't even notice Roys' gunshot wound, and even worse, that he is a highly wanted fugitive, whose mugshot has been on TV for days. After simply being told to go back to the road, Roy is not even recognized by the cop who's checking each car.
    • Roy's picture is circulated on the news. Not once does he attempt to change his hair or the rest of his appearance in any way just to make sure local authorities don't recognise him. Sarah thankfully has the sense to do this at the end.
  • Inspector Javert: NSA Agent Paul Sevier, who becomes the de facto leader of the search for Alton. Upon realizing that Alton should not be treated as a weapon by the government, he helps him escape and returns him to the Tomlins.
  • In Medias Res: Starts with Roy, Lucas, and Alton already on the run. Only gradually do we get the backstory.
  • Mama Bear: When Sarah is cuffed to a shower handle, the moment she hears someone after her son, she rips it off the wall.
  • Make It Look Like a Struggle: Sevier asks to use Lucas's handcuffs to make it look like he was prevented from chasing the family any further. He asks Lucas to punch him too, but after a withering glance decides that would be a bit much.
  • The Messiah: The people from the ranch felt Alton was one.
  • Missing Mom: The other members of the ranch say that Sarah "abandoned" her son. From what she tells Lucas, it appears that Alton was abducted from them to be raised by Calvin. And she eventually left the ranch because she couldn't bear to see someone else raising him.
  • Occult Blue Eyes: Alton's eyes glow a bright blue when his powers surface.
  • Off Screen Moment Of Awesome: First, when Roy sneaked Alton out of the Ranch. Second, when Alton shuts down the FBI base and has Paul take him to Roy.
  • Papa Wolf: Roy will stop at nothing to protect his son. Lucas appears to have this by proxy.
  • Plethora of Mistakes: Roy and Lucas, due to stress, make several mistakes allowing the members of the Ranch to catch up to them. When they get to Sarah's place, they switch to her car, but did not clear out Elden's van. The Ranch members find his registration and pay him a visit. Then we realize that Roy did not kill Elden or at least force him to leave his house and lay low for a while, allowing the Ranch members to learn where they are headed.
  • Power Incontinence: Alton frequently loses control of his powers at first anyway.
  • Reality Is Out to Lunch: When Alton starts influencing the world, things won't respect the rules of reality any more. Especially at the end when meeting the people like him.
  • Sensory Overload: Alton has to wear dark goggles, noise-cancelling headphones, and travel mostly at night due to his hypersensitivity to light and sound.
  • Show, Don't Tell: Jeff Nichols explicitly described the movie as an exercise in explaining as little as possible.
  • Titled After the Song: A cover of "Midnight Special" by Lucero plays over the end credits.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Once Alton masters his powers, he can pretty much use them to do anything he likes.
  • Unnaturally Blue Lighting: Shows up in a few places, usually when Alton is about to use his powers.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • Sarah's mother is seen answering the door to two henchmen from the ranch looking for Alton. She's never seen, nor mentioned afterwards. It's implied that she was bound with the duct tape the henchmen take with them and left behind like they did Lucas, Roy and Sarah.
    • After Lucas narrowly avoids a collision with a car stopped in the middle of the road, the car is hit by a pickup coming from the opposite direction — but neither the pickup nor its driver are anywhere to be seen during the standoff with the state trooper.
  • You Cannot Grasp the True Form:
    • Alton's people only appear as shapeless masses of light from Sarah's perspective.
    • Also valid for their buildings made of Applied Phlebotinum and Crystal Spires, which are never fully visible and involve some rather complex Alien Geometries.