The Midnight After Review

Posted: March 6, 2014 in 2014 Berlinale, Action, Foreign, Reviews, Science Fiction
Tags: , , , , ,

ImageIn his new film, The Midnight After, director Fruit Chan learns a hard, but familiar lesson: while it’s relatively easy to strand people in a phantasmagorical situation, it’s quite difficult to find a fantastic way to explain why and figure out what’s next.

The premise Chan conceives is as intriguing as any Rod Serling offered for your consideration. A disparate group of passengers board a minibus late at night in Hong Kong. En route, the bus goes through a tunnel. When it emerges on the other side, the city is empty.

Shortly, thereafter, the bus passes a blinking billboard that reads in English, Mandarin, and Cantonese: “A great film pitch does not always a great film make.”

If only.

The first act is strong, beginning with the title shots of characters moving across the frenetic urban landscape. Who gets on the bus and who doesn’t, beginning with the flabby, gabby substitute driver, is handled well, providing snapshots of the types that will be making this trip: bickering couple, angry young man, a junkie, college students, a couple of 20-somethings, the wannabe tough guy, the lonely businesswoman.

But when the bus stops in the now-deserted city, the story stalls. The passengers separate, some staying in groups, others striking out on their own. Each is looking for an explanation or simply heading for what was always his, her, or their destination. As the group splits, so does the logical consistency of the narrative.

Molecular disintegration, spontaneous combustion, rape, vigilante justice, bad karaoke – Chan doubles down on the weird at every opportunity. Nothing sustained, nothing explained. If the film as presented in its 124-minute version were chopped into pieces and then reassembled into a 100-minute movie, it is possible than a satisfying story could emerge.

For the genre fan – be it sci-fi or horror since The Midnight After contains elements of both – the experience is particularly frustrating as the production values are sky-high. Watching the film on an Imax screen at the 64th Berlinale Film Festival in February was a visual treat. The deserted city sets are convincing, the special effects have a fresh quality, the cinematography remains beautiful as the film transitions from night into day. The ensemble cast struggles as hard as the audience to make the entire thing work, but it simply doesn’t. The movie remains a squandered opportunity.

One star.

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