The creepiest, sexiest and most romantic contemporary vampire picture is now out in UK cinemas. One of the 10 best films of 2011, this is a picture that deserves a hallowed place in any self-respecting genre geek’s movie collection.
Jacob (Zak Kilberg) is sick. Very, very sick. He leads a solitary existence in a basement apartment with all the windows sealed shut. By day, he is a brilliant young artist – painting variations on a similar theme: exquisite renderings of the sun. He pays his rent working as a night-shift security guard. He is so sensitive to the rays of the sun that his arm bears the horrendous scars of burned flesh.
Of late, he’s been extremely hungry and in spite of wolfing down as much food as possible, he’s becoming thinner and paler. One night he collapses at work – blacking out completely. A doctor examines him and expresses concern that he is becoming anaemic from malnutrition. This, of course, simply cannot be. He’s eating more than a 500 lb circus freak can ingest in a week.
The thing is, Jacob needs meat.
Pure and simple.
On his way home from the doctor visit, he buys a juicy steak from the butcher shop, fries it up and scarfs it down. Alas, he’s still hungry. Eyeing the Styrofoam platter his steak lay upon prior to ingestion, Jacob is especially drawn to the glistening droplets of blood dappling the white foamy surface. He voraciously laps up the treacly crimson goo.
This taste treat inspires yet another visit to his friendly neighbourhood butcher shop whereupon he buys an entire container of blood. He greedily guzzles the haemoglobin treat and feels energized like he hasn’t in some time.
Jacob knows now what he needs to survive.
Jacob needs blood.
Such are the opening minutes of Scott Leberecht’s Midnight Son, one of the most exciting feature-length directorial debuts in years. Given what passes for vampires in these dark days of the ludicrous Twilight franchise, it seems almost insulting to toss this original and affecting horror movie (also scripted by Leberecht) into the same putrid bucket containing Stephenie Meyer’s rank turds.
Still, we must call a spade a spade and a vampire movie Midnight Son most certainly is. As such, it’s one of the creepiest, sexiest and truly most romantic vampire pictures to grace the screens in many a new moon.
Its unique blend of gorgeously gritty camerawork and equal dollops of both neorealism and existentialism place the picture closer to the tradition forged by George A. Romero’s Martin, Larry Fessenden’s Habit and Abel Ferrara’s double scoop of the horror brilliance that is Driller Killer and The Addiction.
What Leberecht brings to the table that’s all his is a tremendous degree of heart. He manages to shock us, creep us out AND move us. This is an astounding achievement.
When Jacob meets the coke-addicted cigarette girl Mary (Maya Parish) they’re instantly attracted to each other – two lost souls in the big city, who deserve much more out of life and most certainly deserve each other. As played by the beautiful, sexy, but wholly real Parish, the character of Mary has what Twilight‘s Kristen Stewart is unable to bring to her vampire-loving heroine – a sense of humour and play. She’s a character that the audience falls in love with because she has a perfect blend of bigger-than-life and girl-next-door properties (albeit slightly tarnished by the cards life has dealt her).
Jacob too feels like somebody we could know, or even be. He’s trapped by circumstance and lonely out of necessity. That he should discover his potential soul mate at the worst possible time isn’t just the stuff of great drama, it’s rooted in realism – an experience so many have had when they find something or someone special, but the timing is so damned inopportune.
Leberecht’s mise en scène is superb. He captures strange corners and pockets of Los Angeles with the same eye for detail Larry Fessenden brought to the Manhattan of Habit. Leberecht’s choice of locations, shots and interiors never feel stock. Most of all, he delivers a side of L.A. we seldom see on film. It’s gritty, all right, but the picture plunges us into the sort of strange places David Lynch himself might be envious of.
My personal favourite is a toxic materials dump in the rear lane of a hospital wherein we’re introduced to one of the weirdest pushers we’ll encounter in any recent movie – the sleazy blood-peddling orderly (brilliantly played by Joe D. Jonz) who discovers a rare, but needy market for what he can provide – no clover, but plenty of crimson.
This is a mere appetizer of inspired casting.
Happily, Leberecht and his team had the exquisite taste to cast one of the greatest character actors working in American cinema today. Appearing as Jacob’s only living cohort in the office tower, Tracey Walter plays the kindly night janitor who dispenses humour, wisdom and assistance. Walter has been in a zillion or so cool movies, but in the context of Midnight Son, it’s especially cool to see him play a character that fondly reminds of the UFO-obsessed trash man Walter played in Alex Cox’s Repo Man (another great picture with a unique sense of place).
Visually and narratively, Midnight Son leads us confidently into territory we almost never see, but even when things start to feel familiar, Leberecht throws us a curve ball – not just for the sake of tossing one our way, but because it’s rooted in the emotion of the story.
One of my favourite trick pitches in Leberecht’s movie falls into a category I like to call ‘Scenes We’d Like to See, but Never Will’. Lo and behold, though, I was resoundingly gobsmacked when the insanely ambitious Leberecht delivered the unthinkable. Imagine a lovemaking sequence where a sexy lady has just snorted several lines of coke, then mounts her lover cowgirl style and vigorously rides that bucking bronco of vampiric prowess. In the throes of passion she’s overtaken by a horrendous coke-influenced nosebleed, which geysers mightily onto Jacob’s face. This would be a shocker for him in any context, but it’s especially delightful as he happens to be a blood-starved vampire.
To that, I say: ‘Top that, Stephenie Meyer!’
Watch the trailer: