While Frightfest is probably best known for delivering previews of prospective horror hits due for release soon, the Discovery screen (packed into the Empire’s tiny screen 4) provides a glimpse at more low-fi works from up-and-coming directors. While evidently limited by a shoestring budget, writer-director Scott Leberecht hasn’t let that get in the way of telling a compelling story with surprisingly solid direction given the production values and relatively amateur nature of the project. Open-minded horror buffs will find plenty to enjoy in this unique American low-budget horror film, Midnight Son.
Defying the typical route of detailing how the protagonist came to be a vampire, Midnight Son instead simply presents us with Jacob (Zak Kilberg), a nervous and unassuming young man who lives in a basement apartment and works a night shift as a security guard due to a rare skin condition which sees him burn horrifically with even the slightest exposure to the sun. On a night out, he comes across Mary (Maya Parish), a local bartender, and the two embark on an uneasy affair, afflicted primarily by Jacob’s suddenly increasing bloodlust as he arrives at the full stage of maturity. While paying local hospital nurse Marcus (Jo D. Jonz) for expired blood from the hospital’s refuse bin, he must also try to fend off the advances of a Detective (Larry Cedar) who suspects him of having committed a series of grisly murders.
Doing away with needless precursors and in fact never having the protagonist say that he is a vampire, Leberecht trims the fat and crafts a concise, clever vampire story packed with smart ideas to compensate for what it lacks in technical prowess. The film begins with Jacob wolfing down pizzas and packs of take-out food to satiate a seemingly endless hunger, before he visits doctors who can provide little explanation, and then, after gulping down the bloody remains of a pack of meat, the penny drops; he needs blood. It’s a refreshingly realistic and down-to-Earth way to integrate the mutedly supernatural premise with a surprisingly nuanced budding romance amid the authentically brooding, noirish landscape.
So committed is the film to its characters, in fact, that the gory vampire story often takes a back seat to the unconventional love story, which is laced with unexpected pathos and humour, such as when Mary suffers a cocaine-fuelled nosebleed, only for the famished Jacob, who by now has it smeared over his face, to lick it up. This co-dependence, of a man suffering with an impossible illness hooking up with a girl whose nose is like a leaky tap, is funny but also convincing.
In its more traditional genre elements, this is a darkly lit, noirish vampire film, with more than its share of ambiguous morality – particularly with regard to the choices Jacob faces about where his blood comes from – but it best distinguishes itself because it has such a keen regard for its characters while not sacrificing the blood-letting elements genre fans will want to see. It’s a refreshing rebuke to the Twilight films, demonstrating that a mix of sex and vampirism doesn’t need to be camp or silly; it can feel genuine when the flashiness is reigned in.
Delivers a compelling, unique spin on the vampire mythos despite a subterranean budget. Hopefully Leberecht will attract plenty of attention as a result.
Midnight Son currently has no UK release date set.