Only by peeling back the superficial layer of Midnight Special (2016) can you truly get a sense of its frantic desperation, wherein lies the disheartening tone found throughout. Midnight Special is more than just a sci-fi/adventure indie film about a young boy with special powers hunted by others for their own selfish desires. Rather, it’s an effective drama focused on a mother and father desperate to keep their son safe.
Alton Meyer (Jaeden Lieberher) is an 8-year-old boy with strange, seemingly supernatural abilities. Through a beam of light that projects from his eyes, Alton has the power to allow others to see things. This very ability is what led to the creation of “The Ranch,” a religious, cult-like organization run by Alton’s adoptive father Calvin (Sam Shepherd).
Calvin and his followers believe Alton is a messenger of God who, after warning them of the fast-approaching end of the world, will ultimately save them. Calvin leads sermons that are influenced by a number code that Alton recites to him. This catches the immediate attention of the U.S. Government, as many of the codes used in Calvin’s sermons are in fact top-secret government information. As the film unfolds, the U.S. Government’s interest in Alton greatly increases when they discover his power, which also includes his ability to make unexplained things happen in their natural world.
Midnight Special opens up in a drab hotel room where Alton, his biological father, Roy (Michael Shannon), and Roy’s longtime friend and state trooper, Lucas (Joel Edgerton), are staying. In the background we see a TV that’s broadcasting a kidnapping report with Alton’s picture at the forefront, along with a photo of his suspected kidnapper: Roy. The camera focuses on the hotel room door, where Lucas pulls back a piece of black duct tape from the peep hole, and begins cutting away the cardboard they’ve taped over the windows. It’s this removal of natural light that we quickly find to be a recurring act throughout the film, and as we keep watching, we find out why, since Alton cannot control his abilities in natural light.