There are some films that come along and you think to yourself “I need to see this.” It’s how I felt with the announcement of Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022) and The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (2022), but that’s to be expected from bigger releases that come from studios like A24 and Lionsgate. This time around, it’s a Korean film called Midnight (미드나이트), written and directed by Kwon Oh-seung in his directorial debut, centered on a deaf witness trying to escape a serial killer. Ordinarily horror isn’t my bag and the premise does remind me of 2016’s Hush, but there’s something about Korean cinema’s creative sensibilities that frequently make the obvious extraordinary. After many a festival screening, Midnight is getting a wider U.S. release by hitting VOD services April 5th and a Blu-ray release May 10th. Based on the information provided, there are no bonus features with the physical release which is the most devastating bummer as I knew before it was finished (a) I wanted to own this film and (b) a deeper dive into the construction and execution of the film would only elevate it. Despite the lack of features, I tell you right now — if the concept sounds even remotely intriguing to you, just buy it. Chances are, it will not disappoint you.
After wrapping up her day as a customer service specialist, Kyung-mi (Jin Ki-joo) picks up her mother (Gil Hae-yeon) to head home and begin planning their upcoming beach trip. Things take a turn when, on the way from parking her car in their neighborhood, Kyung-mi notices a shoe on the sidewalk, only for a second to tumble out of the darkness of the alley. In investigating it, Kyung-mi not only discovers a severely bleeding young woman (Kim Hey-yoon), but becomes the next target of the serial killer (Wi Ha-jun) who wasn’t finished. Interrupted and unwilling to get caught so easily, the killer takes off after Kyung-mi, unrelenting until she’s dead like the rest.
One might presume that a cat-and-mouse thriller involving a deaf witness and a serial killer would be fairly straight-forward given the seeming disparity between target and hunter. As such, a follow-up presumption is made where the target would reveal some kind of superhuman ability born out of a disability, creating a “gotcha” or “you’re in my house now” moment which would send the audience reeling with joy as the tables get turned. It delights me to no end that Kwon avoids this because, while it makes for a fun comeuppance, it’s not particularly novel and it continues one of several tropes regarding people with disability in cinema. Instead, Kwon’s script relies far more on twists of fate and public perception of the disabled in order to extend the chase between the two parties. Don’t want to get caught as a creep? Play a nice guy. Don’t want to be seen as a villain? Play the hero. Time and again, right when the script seems to have played out all its cards, there’s an unexpected turn that puts everything back into play. Because of this repetition, there’s a build-up of tension not just in whether Kyung-mi will survive but in how the balance of power will shift and in who’s favor?
Some of the horror films I’ve enjoyed the most often toy with issues within the real world. In this case, Kwon weaponizes the ways in which the hearing infantilize those whose ears don’t pick up sound. So when Kyung-mi slams her hand down on a security buzzer to request help, there’s no mechanism for her or her mother to communicate with the officers over the speaker. The device is built to provide help to those who need it, yet there’s no consideration in the design to account for those who would need to be seen in order to communicate implying a default view of the citizenry. Then there’re the officers who don’t listen to what either woman communicates regarding the killer, presuming that what they themselves think supersedes what Kyung-mi or her mother try to convey. The conversation constantly defers to whomever is hearing capable over them. To the officers, the women are emotional or disabled, therefore unable to take charge of their situation. This happens again and again, brilliantly shifting the power balance, requiring help to come from different sources. Even then, when expectations presume that the girl’s brother Jong-tak (Park Hoon), a skilled fighter who works in security, will be the hero that Kyung-mi needs in order to save her from the killer, another surprise arrives, brilliant in its construction and execution, knocking the wind out of the sails of Kyung-mi and the audience alike. Doesn’t matter if Kyung-mi is pursued on empty streets or through a crowded arcade, the underlying message within the script is that Kyung-mi is impaired not merely from her inability to hear, but through the views of gender and social norms. With this in mind, there’s no real rest from danger from the moment Kyung-mi finds the wounded girl until the contest of wills is done.
There’s a lot about Midnight that doesn’t feel like a directorial debut. From the sound design that shifts depending on whose perspective the audience is following to the cinematography conveying the beauty of Kyung-mi’s neighborhood one moment and terror the next to the way the camera keeps pace with the characters during the literal chase sequences while still managing to disorient the audience so we’re as off-kilter as the ones on the run. There’s fantastic thought that’s gone into each aspect, each beat, of Midnight and it all shows. It’s because of this beauty that one is willing to forgive moments which seem too grand a risk for a killer clearly intelligent and experienced. The chase scene shown in the trailer depicts a pursuit across a roadway with plenty of witnesses. Given the killer’s silver tongue, there’s plenty of reason to believe that *he* believes there’s nothing suspicious about his actions, but it pushes the bounds of reason. Then again, there’s lots that do the same in the film which don’t go anywhere near the way you’d expect. So maybe chaos is the rule of the day and it’s better to go with it than not.
Wrapping this up, I want to reiterate that if any of the above sounds like your jam, I feel comfortable recommending a purchase versus a rental. This is one of those films where if you know the twists, you’re freed up to check out other details. Or, you can delight in showing this to other people to gauge their reactions. Wi Ha-jun is terrifying and crafty as the killer, while Jin Ki-joo offers an entirely different final girl in her conveyance of varying shades of creativity in the face of constant blockades to Kyung-mi’s safety. There’s not much in the way of supporting performances, but what we get from Kil Hae-yeon and Park Hood specifically brings an extra depth to the drama which unfolds before us. That you won’t have any bonus materials on the physical disc is surely a bummer, but you can rest assured that whenever the urge strikes to revisit this thriller, it’ll be right at your finger-tips, no internet required.
Available on VOD April 5th, 2022.
Available on Blu-ray May 10th, 2022.
For more information or to purchase a copy for yourself, head to the Dread Central official Midnight webpage.
Final Score: 4.5 out of 5.