Indonesia’s cinematic output has been incredibly impressive of late, with two of the best action films in recent memory manifesting there in the form of “The Raid” and “The Raid 2″. Both outshine almost all of Hollywood’s efforts for the past decade in style and intensity with no small thanks to their incredible Indonesian crews, so it’s exciting to see those who worked on them in supporting roles get their chance to shine.
Ginanti Rona Tembang Sari was assistant director on both Raid films, as well as 2009′s grisly “Macabre,” which means she is no stranger to genre filmmaking. “Midnight Show” sees her step into the main directorial role for the frist time with a project heavily inspired by the greats. What we have here is a slasher/giallo that borrows liberally from everyone’s favorites while adding its own Indonesian twist.
The story opens in gory fashion as Bagas - a twelve year old boy - slaughters his entire family and chops them up with a meat cleaver. Bagas is caught, sentenced and imprisoned, then released 15 years later. Cut to somewhere in Jakarta, where a local cinema is conducting a midnight screening of a popular movie that chronicles the crimes of Bagas. Shortly after the patrons take their seats and the staff start the projector, a white-masked maniac begins to pick them off one-by-one.
As the synopsis would suggest, the action primarily happens within the confines of a cinema. It’s a fun setting which has been used to excellent effect previously in Lamberto Bava’s Italian horror cheese classic “Demons”; and 1987′s “Anguish”, a film with which “Midnight Show” shares a few themes and motifs.
The killer’s origin story and appearance bear more than a passing similartiy to those of Michael Myers, who was a clear inspiration. Being thrilled by yet another man-in-a-mask is a tough prospect these days, as we’ve seen so many of them on screen before. Sadly, the killer in “Midnight Show” doesn’t really cut an imposing figure, and the backstory doesn’t bring a lot of new material to the table. We also get too much of him too early, taking the wind out of the mystery and tension’s sails.
After speaking of seeing too much - the film is lit very starkly. There’s a real missed opportunity to create atmosphere with the use of darkness and shadow. A flickering projector, a dark cinema, an eerie glow from the silver screen - so many opportunities to exploit the setting are missed here, as the entire film is bright and almost sterile in its appearance. The cinematography is competent, but everything ends up looking flat.
The cast are generally likable even though they’re not given a lot to work with character-wise. The script and plot structure adhere to the traditional slasher formula, then take a turn into the more modern torture genre territory toward the end, complete with a derivative ending that isn’t massively surprising.
There’s a lot of imagery in “Midnight Show” that suggests the intention is to make a comment on how media affects us and changes the way we perceive people. The film is somewhat inexplicably set in 1998, as it doesn’t really use the time period to any particular advantage. Perhaps it was intended simply as a means to trap the film’s victims in the cinema without use of cell phones; but my theory is that it’s just a good excuse to have a real film-project on screen. It must be there as a tribute to the grindhouse classics that served as the film’s inspiration, complete with reels of celluloid and the characters going through the process to load the projector for us. In some ways it’s unfortunate and ironic that “Midnight Show” was shot on digital rather than film. That may have given it a more authentic aesthetic.
While it may sound like I’m being particularly down on this movie, there is still a palpable sense of passion and excitement for filmmaking on display here. It’s admittedly very low budget, and what they’ve achieved is no small feat. You can feel the desire to make a fun horror flick, and it comes across admirably. It just ends up feeling a little empty, and I fear that could be because I’m missing something vital - something lost in translation. Perhaps there’s something deeper at work here that doesn’t pop out at me because of my admittedly limited knowledge of Indonesian film history and political media. Either way, “Midnight Show” is a decent debut hampered by not-so-original ideas and some unfortunate presentational limitations. It’s still worth watching for fans of the genre, particularly to support the Indonesian film history which is clearly brimming with talent.
Whatever you do, just don’t confuse it with the other 2016 film titled “Midnight Show” which stars Ron Jeremy.