While acting as caretaker for her crotchety grandma Anna (Lin Shaye), Alex (Gabrielle Haugh) stumbles onto a game from Anna’s childhood. It involves the Midnight Man (Kyle Strauts), a creature who appears when summoned with a precise sequence of events, including but not limited to turning off all the lights, writing down one’s fears, drawing blood from a finger, and lighting a candle. The main objective of the game is to avoid being killed by him until 3:30 in the morning. Faced with this irresistible concept, Alex wastes no time playing. Naturally, the demon has tricks up his sleeve for Alex and her buddies Miles (Grayson Gabriel) and Kelly (Emily Haine).
I first watched this movie as part of a birthday celebration with my husband, sister, and brother-in-law. (I watched it a second time to review it–you’re welcome.) We’re Lin Shaye fans, and Robert Englund as Anna’s doctor is a happy bonus. It has a fun premise; I’m always down for a good boogeyman story. Unfortunately, it was so ridiculous that we laughed our way through it.
One of my biggest gripes is the lack of logical continuity. Things are one way, and then suddenly they’re the opposite. The rules of the game change to suit what’s easiest to move the plot forward. When Anna is a kid, the players all provide a picture of themselves, while Alex and her crew don’t have to bother. Alex doesn’t actually turn off every single light in the house, and while it’s supposedly crucial to relight each player’s candle within ten seconds of going out, they sometimes count so slowly that in real time they’ve had much longer than that. The plot is inspired by a Creepypasta story, which is acknowledged by Kelly in the movie; she comes in preening about being an expert because she read about it online. However, Alex and Miles act like destroying their copy of the game is going to accomplish something as far as stopping the Midnight Man. The characters are similarly erratic. Alex has no consistent pet name for Anna; she alternates between Nana, Grams, and Gran–which bloody is it? Who calls their grandma more than one thing? Anna sinisterly asks Alex to look in the attic for her hand mirror, making it clear that she’s enticing Alex to find the game, but after coming across Alex looking at it, she hollers “YOU OPENED THE GAME!!!” and faints. After she regains consciousness her emotional state is just as unclear (see below). Though to be fair, she does seem to be suffering from dementia.
In addition to being capricious, everybody does just plain stupid shit. In the opening, a flashback to Anna’s youth shows one of her friends freaking out and leaving the kids’ circle of salt–which offers protection from the Midnight Man–for no particular reason. Alex and Max sort of have feelings for each other, and while Kelly cowers in a salt circle that she can’t leave after her candle goes out, they decide to take off (for…reasons?) and end up making out, ’cause screw you, Kelly, no movie is complete without a heteronormative romantic subplot. And again, what exactly is Alex’s motivation for playing the game at all?
Miles is pretty likable, but otherwise most of the characters leave something to be desired. Kelly delivers the entirety of her lines in a lazy whine. Anna is extremely over-the-top, and Shaye reaaaally overdoes it with the crazy faces and screaming. Englund does well playing against type as kindly Dr. Harding, but his dialogue often gets corny: “Your mother would be proud. The world lost a fine soul the day she passed and for that, I am truly sorry.” Alex is a totally unremarkable lead, and Gabrielle Haugh has moments where she spits out her lines as quickly and flatly as possible, like she’s in a hurry to get the movie over with (can’t blame her there), though her gestures and expressions are always on point (see below).
It’s not scary whatsoever. The Midnight Man is a mass of makeup and special effects, even having a computer-distorted voice. (Yet I do like his motto: “Your tears mean nothing to me.”) The movie mainly relies on cheap jump scares and altogether too many shots of MM’s hand reaching out of a door.
Buuuuut I didn’t hate it. The practical effects, like the sea of blood that accompanies a death in the opening, are notable. The music is creepy. Anna’s massive, in-some-areas-gradually-decaying-as-a-metaphor-but-otherwise-quite-lovely-house, is a great set; my favorite parts are the room full of clocks and the leaky greenhouse room. (You guessed it, they go in there with their candles and are surprised that leaky roofs leak.) Give it a look if you’re in the mood for something you can enjoy poking fun at that’s not so bad you’ll be miserable.