'The Midnight Man': Film Review

Courtesy of IFC Films
The veteran performers deserve better.

Horror icons Robert Englund and Lin Shaye star in Travis Zariwny's supernatural thriller about a game that results in the presence of a malevolent figure.

"What's your fear?" the titular monster in Travis Zariwny's horror film The Midnight Man repeatedly asks his potential victims. The question is apparently intended to elicit information that he will use against them. The answers aren't particularly interesting, but audience members will probably want to reply, "Having to watch the rest of this terrible movie."  

Like the filmmaker's wholly unnecessary 2016 remake of Eli Roth's cult horror classic Cabin Fever, The Midnight Man is also derivative. It's a remake of a 2013 Irish film of the same name, directed by Rob Kennedy, which was never released in America.

This pic's main selling point is the presence of two horror film icons: Robert Englund, who will always be best known for his truly frightening Freddy Krueger in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, and Lin Shaye, star of the Insidious series. You can't help get the feeling that they're slumming here.  

As with so many horror films, the story concerns a game that produces deadly results (you'd think kids would have learned to stop playing them by now). A 1953-set prologue shows several children huddled together within a circle of salt, playing a game named for what is later described as a "pagan entity" known as the Midnight Man. Needless to say, the game doesn't end well, with one little boy suffering a fate similar to the child in the opening sequence of It.

The story picks up decades later, with one of the players, Anna (Shaye), now a dementia-addled elderly woman who lives in her rundown mansion with her caretaker granddaughter Alex (Gabrielle Haugh). One day, Anna asks Alex to retrieve a hand mirror from the attic. Venturing into the darkened space, Alex encounters objects ranging from a male mannequin to a handgun. She also finds a box containing the paraphernalia necessary to play the Midnight Man game. Alex begins to play it with her friend Miles (Grayson Gabriel). And that's when all hell breaks loose.

Or, as Shaye's character shrieks in one of the film's many jump scares, "You opened the GAME!"

When Anna's friend Dr. Goodberry (Englund) shows up to make a house call, he immediately senses the danger. "This is no game for kids or bored teenagers," he chides, but it's too late. The Midnight Man (Kyle Strauts) begins showing up, looking like a costume you'd pick up in a Halloween store and sounding like a lifetime heavy smoker. The doctor warns the kids that the monster is also something of a cheater. "The Midnight Man doesn't like to lose," he warns.

The ensuing violent mayhem — which also involves Alex's friend Kelly (Emily Haine), who shows up at just the wrong time — proves forgettable, save for the sight of the Midnight Man wearing a large bunny head (don't ask). Veterans Englund and Shaye admirably give it their all, but their best efforts are not enough to elevate the subpar material directed in mechanical fashion by Zariwny.

Production companies: The Bridge Finance Company, Midnight Productions, Scooty Woop Elite
Distributor: IFC Midnight
Cast: Robert Englund, Lin Shaye, Gabrielle Haugh,  Grayson Gabriel, Kyle Stauts, Emily Haine
Director-screenwriter: Travis Zariwny
Producers: Jeff Beesley, Cassian Elwes, Frankie Lindquist
Executive producers: Horacio Altamirano, Steffan Aumueller, Robert Ogden Barnum, Jeff Beesley, Nicolas Chartier, Mary Cybriwsky, Jonathan Deckter, Zulfikar Guzelgun, Dave Hansen, Penny Karlin, Lorcan Kavanagh, Edward Kennedy, Rob Kennedy, Phyllis Laing, Christopher Lemole, Louise Linton, Steven Mnuchin, Vishal Rungta, Michael Sirow, Josh Sternfeld, Ike Suri, Jaclyn Ann Suri, Devan Towers, Tim Zajaros
Director of photography: Gavin Kelly
Production designer: Melanie Rein
Editor: Kyle Tekiela
Costume designer: Patricia J. Henderson
Composer: Olaf Pyttik

95 minutes