Jeremy Gardner is a fascinating character I truly admire. He’s becoming sort of a legend in the independent cinema stage, where he does everything in many movies: from acting to directing, from editing to writing the script, Gardner is a real filmmaker in the literal sense of the world. Whether you like the final products that see him involved or not, you can’t deny this young American man has talent, passion and dedication. Also, he’s friend with indie legends Aaron Moorhead & Justin Benson: the way these three filmmakers influence each other is quite evident and fun to watch in their movies
In fact, in his latest film – After Midnight, now available on VOD – which is produced by Moorhead and Benson, Jeremy Gardner is involved in the entire “production chain”: he wrote the movie, wrote the script for it (together with Christian Stella, who was also Director of Photography), edited the footage and starred as Hank! If this is not something to respect, I really don’t know what is.
Continue reading and check my final grade below…
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My review is also available on IMDb – After Midnight (2019)
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After Midnight – a story of monsters and inner demons
Even though it’s told through flashbacks and non-linear storytelling, the plot of After Midnight is fairly simple. Labelled as a drama-horror-sci-fi movie, After Midnight centres around Hank (Gardner), a small-town bartender who lives with his beloved girlfriend Abby (Brea Grant) in the family cabin set nearby a swamp. We slowly learn that Abby left Hank, due to the man’s struggle to fully commit to her: alone with his thoughts, Hank begins to believe an alien or a monster lives in the swamps and comes out every night to try and kill him. Is the creature real or is it all in Hank’s mind?
Without giving anything away, it’s important to underline the symbolic value of many things that happen in After Midnight. In a subtle yet clear way, this film draws parallels between the breaking of a relationship (with themes of commitment and fear within couples) and the monster that, during night-time, comes to taunt the main character. It’s my understanding that quite a few people didn’t like this movie because it’s not a traditional creature-feature, which is what they might have expected going into it. In fact, you must understand After Midnight is a genre-bending movie that combines elements of drama, horror, science fiction, mystery and even comedy.
Mixing genres to offer a unique viewing experience
The mix of different genres and the way they seamlessly blend together is one of the main strengths of After Midnight. Somehow, this film manages to be unsettling and hilarious at the same time, whilst also featuring a couple of well-timed scares and a few touching scenes that take place in a rather surreal setting (very inspired by Benson and Moorhead’s cinema, I believe).
What stands out the most in After Midnight, at least to me, is the way the film constantly subverts the viewer’s expectation. Above all, I didn’t anticipate this movie to be as funny as it was: Jeremy Gardner, as Hank, is able to convey comedy through drama, which is something very hard to achieve; his best friend Wade (Henry Zebrowski), on the other hand, offers pure comedic relief that manages to be laugh-out-loud funny and yet integral to the story. Yet, I wasn’t expecting the characters to be as in-depth as they were in the movie, something that absolutely helps sympathising with them.
Real characters in a surreal scenario
After Midnight features a single one-take shot that lasts 10 minutes and only shows Hank and Abby talking, discussing their relationship and arguing. The camera just stays on them, panning only a couple of times towards the leads, so the emotion and impact of the scene purely comes from great performances and genuine investment in the protagonists.
Both Abby and Hank start off as middle-of-the-road horror characters, the ones you usually don’t care about nor remember their name after the film has ended. As the movie goes on, though, you truly get to understand them due to clever and realistic dialogue, genuine way to act and react and truthful interaction. At the same time, understanding the metaphorical significance of the monster in Hank’s life is enough to enrich his character and make it relatable for everyone who’s willing to look beneath the surface.
Deliver the message & repeat
Although I mostly loved After Midnight, there’s an aspect that brings it down quite a bit: it’s incredibly repetitive. As I said at the beginning, the story jumps back and forth between past and present, however the movie keeps showing either scenes of Hank being miserable or him and Abby being super happy and in love. This feels more like hammering home a concept rather than telling a story in a compelling and creative way. Once you’ve seen similar scenes for a third, fourth, fifth time, they become annoying and tedious.
The repetitiveness is, unfortunately, an issue with the cinematography as well. Despite the thoughtful shot composition and camera work, there’s no variety in the way scenes are filmed, no visual creativity that would make you able to tell apart one sequence from the next. The way flashbacks keep repeating themselves, combined with a substantial lack of variety in terms of visual flair, is a deterrent to multiple viewings as well as making the movie feel longer than it is.
I believe this film will be either loved or hated with passion by those of you who decide to give it a go. In fact, if you’re looking for a fun, straightforward creature-feature you should skip After Midnight and opt for something else. On the other side, if you’d like to experience something new – perhaps less entertaining, but more stimulating and unique – you should give this film a chance.
Clearly After Midnight is no masterpiece: its repetitiveness keeps it from being something great and the small set of locations make it feel very restrained. However, it’s a film I had a great time watching: it features some genuinely great elements, as well as a few interesting concepts I would love to be explored more in horror.
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