I’m not informed enough to have an opinion on whether modern films dumb down for their audiences. But Midnight Special is the first film I’ve seen in a while that throws its audience into the thick of things and expects them to catch up. Like Inception, there’s exposition, but it comes later, once you’re onboard (or not). A more conventional approach might’ve began with the cult on their ranch. We’d see them worship Alton. Then we’d see Roy sneak him out. Midnight instead adheres to the storytelling maxim of ‘get in late’, and picked up when it needed to, no earlier. Efficient storytelling
I have a great many friends. A number of them see me as a cinema sage. They’ll ask me for recommendations. I’ll suggest Midnight Special. But, because they’re simple people, they’ll ask for a plot summary. “Like ET but with a boy instead of that weird, long-fingered monster” is what I’ll say.
The film’s inspirations are clear: ET, Akira, maybe Looper at a stretch, But ‘inspiration’ is the right word, Midnight never feels derivative.
Roy’s face shows up on the news. I thought ‘Well, his hair is quite different, maybe people won’t recognise him’. Then I remembered, that’s Michael Shannon and his granite face. Babies, blind people, and dogs could see that face once and recognise it half a mile away. In the dark.