Thursday, January 24, 2019

In short: Midnight Show (2016)

Warning: structural spoilers ahoy!

A small, third-string cinema in late 90s Jakarta. Projectionist Juna (Gandhi Fernando) and ticket seller Naya (Acha Septriasa), their boss, and the worst security guard ever are a bit of a personnel overkill for the midnight showing of an elsewhere rather successful horror film “based on a true story” about a small boy murdering his whole family. There are, after all, only four paying customers.

As it will turn out, one of these customers is of a rather murderous persuasion. He may even be the little boy from the film all grown up and out of prison partaking in a bit of practical film criticism that overlooks the truth every moviegoer knows: films based on a true story are never actually true.

For the first two thirds of its running time, impressively named director Ginanti Rona Tembang Sari’s Indonesian slasher variant Midnight Show seems to be a pretty straightforward affair, a well-done thriller that comes down on the fun side of films about masked maniacs slaughtering a handful of people. However, for its third act it isn’t only going the plot twist route but also turning up the impact of the violence, changing from a more film-like bloodiness to something that feels more real and even a bit disquieting. In spirit, this turns out to be not so much like a late 90s slasher, the pinnacle of the slasher as a film genre ignoring any possibility of having an emotional impact on its audience, but rather the sort of bleak affair I tend to connect with the 70s. In fact, as the film’s killer turns out to be a bit of a too active film critic, so does Midnight Show turn into a bit of a critique of the merely fun slasher, getting nasty about the business of killing people for our entertainment because that is indeed a bit of a nasty thing.

That doesn’t mean Sari’s film isn’t an effective slasher. In fact, its somewhat lighter first acts are very well done thriller fare, the director clearly having a knack for the classic low budget business of portraying simply yet deftly drawn characters fighting off a violent menace in an enclosed space. There are some very cleverly staged sequences early on, some subtly stylish flourishes to the framing that build tension even when there’s no outright action happening, and a general sense that you’re in the hands of a director who is very much in control of his material and what he wants out of it. That he then escalates to something harsher and a bit more complicated than Midnight Show at first appears to be is obviously only improving on something that’s already been a very a good film.

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