I love thrillers where the lead is physically hindered.
Whether it’s Rear Window with Jeff Jeffries stuck in his wheelchair or Hush, where a deaf horror author confronts a home invader, an internal obstacle coupled with the external makes the story and characters more interesting. We’ve also seen this in action movies, as most of the climax in Die Hard sees John McClane barely able to walk, his feet covered in glass. These elements don’t replace characterization; a strong character needs to be well-rounded rather than be defined by a specific character trait. Fortunately, Midnight succeeds in giving us an intense thriller with appealing and terrifying characters.
Midnight is a South Korean thriller about Kyung-mi (Jin Ki-joo), a deaf woman stalked by a serial killer, Do-shik (Wi Ha-joon). Taking place throughout one evening, the film is pulse-pounding. Its chase and stalking scenes are heart-racing while knowing when to let the characters breathe so you can invest in their struggle. Director Kwon Oh-seung knows when to let the camera linger and use his environment to build a sense of atmosphere. But when the pace picks up, it picks up hard, as he speeds up the action reflecting Kyung-mi’s desperation while keeping the story coherent. He makes every all and corridor feel menacing like at any moment, Do-shik will strike as Kyung-mi runs to find someplace safe.
The strongest element of the film is the leads, both from a writing and performance perspective. Kyung-mi bursts with personality; she’s funny, edgy, and is just a cool character. A scene where she uses sign language to mess with misogynistic businessmen had me in hysterics. Jin Ki-joo plays her with charm and strength, and her fear feels real. Her performance makes the film more heartbreaking when Do-shik confronts her. Do-shik is crafty and manipulative, and Wi Ha-joon is having tremendous fun playing this devious cretin. They work perfectly off of each other in this cat-and-mouse game of a movie.
The film, unfortunately, has some shortcomings in its writing, primarily in the second act. Some moments feel contrived, too convenient, or certain characters will show up at just the right or wrong time for the sake of the plot. These moments aren’t frequent, but they took me out of the film when they did happen. It’s clear that Kwon Oh-seung was leaning heavily on the strength of his direction and his leads to carry the film, and it does work. I felt empathy for Kyung-mi and wanted to see Do-shik get caught; I cared about them, which kept me in the story. The script probably could’ve used one more re-write to fix some shakier moments.
Overall, Midnight is a solid thriller that benefits from strong direction and engaging characters. It might not break new ground, but it’s well-executed, gripping, and has a unique identity. A lot of skill is on display in this movie, both in front of and behind the camera. Give this film a watch; you won’t be disappointed.
Midnight will be playing at the New York Asian Film Festival via virtual cinema from August 7th-12th. You can purchase tickets here.