Some say it is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all. Clearly those doe-eyed lovers never lost then had a vicious monster pounding in their front door every night to follow. Such is the genesis of Jeremy Gardner's third feature, After Midnight; a tiny romantic drama/creature feature hybrid packing the wallop of a sledgehammer.
After Midnight chronicles the budding romance between Hank (Gardner) and Abby (Brea Grant), before flash forwarding a decade where Abby has left a note detailing her sudden disappearance. Simultaneously, a monster appears and attempts to break into Hank and Abby's home every night. The film then crosscuts between flashbacks and present day. We witness the once happy couple as unspoken tensions drive a wedge between them while Hank attempts to come to terms with Abby's present day absence.
It's no wonder why burgeoning indie filmmaker titans Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson hitched their production company Rustic Films to Gardner and co-directed Christian Stella’s film. The duo's indie spirit is as vibrant they come and After Midnight, like the aforementioned filmmaker's catalogue (The Endless, Spring, and Resolution), is a small movie with big yet remarkably grounded ideas. What centers After Midnight is how it tackles the complications that develop in your typical modern romance. Gardner's script is deeply human and rich with relatable emotions, but the writer also doesn't skimp on comic relief and lets the performances breathe naturally, keeping the emotions raw and real without dipping into stereotypical mumblecore pitfalls.
The film is a significant leap forward for Gardner and Stella as directors, who previously teamed up on Tex Montana Will Survive!. But Gardner’s skills as an actor are also growing. Relying almost entirely on performance to sow the seeds of this story, Gardner, Grant and the remaining cast perform every beat beautifully. Of particular note is a scene stealing turn from Henry Zebrowski and a charmingly smug performance from Benson. The result is a sublime blend of real, relatable emotions with just enough beautiful creature feature weirdness. Behind it all is an astounding bit of cinematography for a film of this nature, lending a surreal dreamscape quality that only accentuates just how well After Midnight seeps into your subconscious long after its over.
After Midnight’s dreamlike aesthetic transcends indie romances of its ilk, but under the surface, the film has a heart that beats to the rhythm of the horror genre, thus creating 'something else' entirely. Gardner already proved what he can do with almost nothing and he continues to overachieve in the indie filmmaking arena along with Stella. One can only hope their talents expand to the mainstream, though perhaps with something as special as After Midnight we should be advocating for the talent to stay small and think big.
Reviewed as part of the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival
Formerly titled ‘Something Else’. Re-titled after it was acquired for distribution in early 2020.