GRIMMFEST ‘20 — ‘Ten Minutes to Midnight’ is an Entertaining Vampire Flick with a Powerful Message That Falls Short

A still from 'Ten Minutes to Midnight'. Radio host Amy Marlowe (Caroline Williams) is in her studio full of records and CDS. She is shown in close-up, profile view. She is screaming and her mouth is wide open and full of blood. She has long blonde hair and heavy makeup.
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In Ten Minutes to Midnight, a violent hurricane traps late night radio host Amy Marlowe (Caroline Williams) and her staff at WLST for the night. Upon arrival, Amy is bothered by a nasty bite on her neck, which a coworker suggests she gets checked out because bat bites can only lead to rabies. The doctor can wait, though, because Amy has a show to do. But before she goes on air, her boss Robert (William Youmans) announces that she’s being replaced by Sienna (Nicole Kang), who will shadow her every move tonight. 

Amy’s last show, ‘Ten Minutes to Midnight’, gets off to a rocky start when she lashes out at both Sienna and the callers. Her intense on-air meltdown makes her more unlikeable and egotistical than necessary. Amy’s 30 year reputation was destroyed in an instant, but the storm means only a limited amount of people heard the broadcast. She has a chance to salvage things, but it’s going to be tough because something is happening to her — she’s changing. 

For the remainder of the night, the lines of reality are blurred for Amy as she contends with being replaced by a younger model, in addition to the nightmarish visions caused by the rabid bat bite. In her feverish psychosis, she attacks people, sees oozing blood and distorted faces, as well as her coworkers swapping characters and mutilating themselves. Audio tech Aaron (Adam Weppler) burns his hand on a boiling kettle in a particularly gruesome scene, and Amy dines on a used, bloody tampon in another. 

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The film comments on how women are treated in the entertainment industry, as Amy struggles to cope with forced retirement.There’s dialogue about sleeping your way up to the top, which is explored further in flashbacks of Rob coming on to Amy when she first started out. Amy assumes Sienna must be sleeping with Rob to get her job, but Sienna tells her that she didn’t have to sleep with him — just make him think that he could. Sienna is the industry’s next victim, but she uses the exploitative system against Rob, who still enjoys abusing his power.

Amy’s vampiric behaviour can also be seen as a metaphor for the industry’s bloodsucking nature, as well as a menopausal stereotype of women becoming old and useless. There’s a great scene during Amy’s retirement party which represents how retirement is death for women because there’s nothing left for us when we reach our ‘expiration date’. We don’t get many new vampire films anymore, so it’s a huge selling point of the film to use that gimmick to explore an important issue in what is an original take on the tropes of the genre. 

Amongst its message on the vampiric nature of the entertainment industry, the film still has plenty of time for fantastic gore and nails its punk-grunge aesthetic. It feels like a throwback to the films of the late 70s and early 80s, such as Sam Rami’s The Evil Dead. It’s bloody, colourful and deeply atmospheric, which reflects Amy’s state of mind, but the execution is a little too disorientating as it regularly messes with chronology and character roles. Williams, however shines in her electrifying role as a radio host, which appears to be a nod to her esteemed role as DJ Vanita “Stretch” Brock in 1986’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. There’s a powerful message within this entertaining vampire flick, but Ten Minutes to Midnight feels a little undercooked, contending with too many genres at once and focusing more on aesthetics than narrative.

Ten Minutes to Midnight screened as part of the online edition of Grimmfest 2020 from October 7th to 11th

by Toni Stanger

Toni Stanger is a film and screenwriting graduate with a passion for cats, horror films and middle-aged actresses. Her favourite films include Gone Girl, Heathers, Scream and Excision. You can find her on Twitter and Letterboxd.

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