Jeremy Gardner has become something of a genre film festival darling, possessing the ability to merge and rework genres to his liking for something entirely unique. With his fervent low-budget DIY attitude —that would probably be met with walk outs anywhere outside of the dingy spaces that genre fans inhabit— Gardner first gained notoriety with his debut feature, The Battery. A laid-back zombie movie that was more focused on two dudes falling out than the imminent threat of the undead, Gardner brought mumblecore to horror.
This year Gardner and co-director Christian Stella rocked up to Fantastic Fest with After Midnight; a mumblecore break-up tale guised as a monster movie. Gardner’s ability to see the most dreaded horrors of the earth as nothing more than a purely irritating distraction from a character’s confrontation of their deep, deep feelings, gives him a particularly good jumping off point to confront monsters not only physical but also metaphorical too. Once again starring in his own film we witness Gardner’s character Hank working through a complete psychological breakdown after his long-term girlfriend, Abby (Brea Grant) ups and leaves their run-down Florida home.
Unlucky for hank Hank, Abby’s disappearance is the least of his worries; there’s a monster trying to bash his door in every night too. In a near-constant drunken stupor Hank plonks himself on the sofa, gun in hand, wondering where it all went wrong. As Hank’s mental state declines, we witness the making of −and falling apart− of Hank and Abby through a series of flashbacks unable to be pinpointed to any chronological order.
These scenes with Abby are wholly touching and realistic displays of the intricacies of a modern-day relationship, where the mumblecore concept lends itself beautifully to meaningful mundane conversations. There’s also Hank’s best friend Wade (Henry Zebrowski), who alleviates proceedings with an incredible comedic performance (notably a scene where Wade debates that the monster might be a cat).
To rapturous audience cheer at the promise of a monster movie, its unveiled that Wade was in fact incorrect and a real monster does actually loom large, the film then diving head first into a batshit crazy horror-laden final scene that’s precursed by a spectacularly heartfelt karaoke number that feels as out of place as it does completely-spot-on-perfect for Gardner’s twisted world of genre mash-up. After Midnight runs wildly between these realms of rom-com, horror and mumblecore for its duration, and often those stark outlines find it difficult to intersect with each other, making the film often feel chunky and separate. But ultimately, Gardner’s subtlety with his idea of what defines ‘horror’ −mainly our intrinsic need to always define it as a physical manifestation out to get us, is what keeps the film so fresh. For when Hank confronts his own personal demons, the real monster eventually appears. This isn’t so much a film about a doomed relationship, its about holding yourself accountable and saving yourself first.
by Chloe Leeson
Chloe Leeson is the founder of SQ. She hails from the north of England (the proper north that people think is actually Scotland but isn’t). Her life source is Harmony Korine’s 90s Letterman interviews and Ezra Miller’s jawline. She is a costume designer for hire who spends far too much time watching bad horror movies. Her favourite films are Into The Wild, Lords of Dogtown, Stand by Me and Pan’s Labyrinth. She rants about cinema screenings @kawaiigoff and logs them on letterboxd here