Monday 18 November 2013

The Midnightmare (2013)

Director: Maurice Anthony
Stars: Chelsea Claire, Aaron Leupp and Lauren Rose Franco

The cheesy title and the creepy expressionistic visuals of shadowy hands reaching out for a sleeping body as the film opens might suggest that this is a horror movie. Ensuing scenes might back up that assumption, surrounding as they do a conversation between a woman who disposes of bodies for a living and another who's morbidly interested in what she does. The intensity of Chelsea Claire, who plays the latter, might put that beyond question, as she retreats into herself to a truly scary degree, reminding of Brad Dourif early in his career. Really though, this is a psychological thriller and while Claire looks wonderfully tormented, her voicework is notably overdone. Bizarrely, that may play to the story's advantage, adding to the disorienting effect that the patchwork editing aims for and succeeds in finding. This is a trip suitably cut up into fragments and reassembled in nightmarish order, so that we learn what's really going on only gradually and even then in a hallucinatory fashion.

Clearly Danni is a troubled creature and not only by the external things that we see. Sure, she seems to be haunted by her dead fiancé, but she's far more haunted by herself. She's wracked with regret, guilt and grief, all bundled together into a toxic cocktail that's clearly driving her crazy. She's taking a lot of different medications. She chain smokes. She buys a gun. We have no clue what order any of this is happening in, but it's all there and it surely can't be good. Most notably, she apparently can't sleep but the dreamlike skips and stutters raise a suspicion that she's asleep all along and we're just watching her nightmare unfold. When the sound goes out of sync fifteen minutes in at a crucial point in the film, as she has her first actual conversation with Wesley, her dead fiancé, I wondered if this was a happy side effect, hardly the intended goal but something that helps disorient us even further. Unfortunately it also led me to rationalise a plot twist as a continuity error.
And that really wasn't good. This plot twist is really the single moment where the jumble of imagery that writer/director Maurice Anthony has whirled around us for fifteen minutes comes into focus and nails home how seriously troubled this young lady is, so my mistake, however understandable it was, shattered the impact of the piece and left it a confusing mess. Only after a couple of further viewings to figure out what I was missing did I realise my mistake and everything came clear. This sound issue hadn't been fixed when The Midnightmare screened at the October edition of the Arizona Filmmakers Showcase at FilmBar in Phoenix but I presume it will be by the time the picture is seen widely. At least I hope so. 'That's why I need you,' Danni confesses to her friend Brynne partway through the film, 'to help make sense of everything that's getting muddled through my head.' We need her for the same reason, and once the sound is back in sync, I have a feeling she'll do that job well.

Visually, it's an enticing piece, as it would have to be with this highly impressionistic approach. There isn't a consistent flowing story and it's an open question as to how much of this is real and how much is taking place in the head of the character we're watching. We're bounced back and forth to events that take place over a period of maybe a year. Some are repeated, initially shown completely out of context but later clearly; some are initially heard but not seen, then shown again with visuals; others merely make no sense at all until we're given context later in the film. The events they surround are particularly traumatic ones, especially to someone who's already damaged goods, and the story spun out of them is a good one. It's a very cinematic piece too, one that wouldn't work in print but which springs to life with this sort of cut up technique. It's interesting as it is in its flawed state, but it may well be highly impactful once its painful sound issues are resolved. Hopefully we'll find out soon.


Anonymous said...

I would like to know what the full credits are for this film. Anyone know?

Hal C. F. Astell said...

Sure, here you go. In the sections they appeared in, with duplicates intact:

A Forever Filmworks Film

Writer - Maurice Anthony
Director - Maurice Anthony
Executive Producer - Marcus Folaji Ajose

Chelsea Claire - Danni
Aaron Leupp - Wesley
Lauren Rose Franco - Brynne
with the voice talents of Simona Sarmiento and Charis Harty

Executive Producers: Mircea Goia and Tom Lanfor
Co-Producer - Chelsea Claire
Assistant Director - David Knoblock
Production Manager - Renee Bock Mackel

Director of Photography - Phil Walker
Production Assistant - Molly Laughlin
Editing - Forever Filmworks
Production Design - Sarah Beyer
Make-Up Design - Angela Schmidt
Additional Make-Up - Kristen Phillips
Original Music - Ecto and David Knoblock
Additional Music - Pharaoh
Sound Engineering - Kristen Taylor and David Henry
Second Unit Camera Operator - Randy Stearman
Assistant Camera - Jonny Stalnaker
Script Supervisor - Austin Tyler Lee
Location Manager - Jose Rivera
Production Assistant - Molly Laughlin
Key Grips - Deon Maez and Kevin Joy
Collaborating Artist - Marita Lawson