Well known country boy Hank has everything he could ever need in the small, rural Florida town: having an establish family lineage, being the owner of a local bar hotspot, and obtaining the love of the beautiful Abby. Their gleaming happiness suddenly goes dim when Abby abruptly takes off, leaving a note with little information of her whereabouts or her plans. Fraught in her absence, Hank drinks himself into a stupor most nights of romantic nostalgia while also fending off his rustic home from a beast out of the surrounding woods that continuously scratches at his front door nightly. Hank’s friends believe he’s suffering a mild mental break as night-after-night, the snarling beast evades Hank every effort to capture and kill it.
“After Midnight” is a sheering melodious and delicately programed romance-horror from “The Battery” writer-director Jeremy Gardner allotting co-directorial duties again with continuous collaboration beside Christian Stella. As Gardner’s third film in the director’s chair, second inside the realm of horror, “After Midnight” brandishes more a sappy love story that sings the tune of a love lost warrior where the relationship woes lie within the deepest, darkest corners of himself rather than being a frontline horror sprinkled lightly with dusted coating of amorous renewal. “After Midnight” is a topsy-turvy monster movie not for an insouciant genre fan who rather skim the surface for blood on the topsoil than dig feverously for the originating root. If you’re also a fan of the mysteriously acclaimed, H.P. Lovecraft-inspired “The Endless,” the filmmakers behind that film – David Lawson, Aaron Moorhead, and Justin Benson – produce “After Midnight” under their Rustic Films label in association with Vested Interest, Cranked Up Films, and Kavya Films, casting that querying memento clinging like a foreboding, nagging scratch needing to be itched.
Not only is Gardner the director, he also stars as Hank, enduring the multi-hat involvement in his films in thematic fashion from his previous films, spearheading the roles in “The Battery” and “Tex Montana Will Survive!,” and Gardner has also branched out beyond his work, having roles in the visceral Joe Begos’ films “Bliss” and “The Mind’s Eye.” Gardner sports his common wear of a U-shaped V-neck t-shirt and bushy beard overtop his large frame and wields a sharp tongue, whiplashing small witticisms as he charms his serenading rustic charisma upon Brea Grant as Abby. The “Dead Night” actress enacts every man’s inherent fear of being lost without their better half when Abby hightails from Hank’s steadfast stance on life. Grant provides a flood of emotional drought through a series of Hanks’ melancholy, good times flashbacks that provide backstory fuel to Hanks’ quickly withering grounded state. Gardner and Grant’s chemistry eerily dons the routine life span of young love and weary complacency without so much showing the beat work argumentative discussions and differences of a diminishing relationship; their natural banter never derails even amongst a bedeviling beast with nightly visitations on a drained Hanks’ doorstep. “After Midnight” fleshes out with a cast of superb supporting roles with nearly Henry Zebrowski (“Cut Shoot Kill”) stealing the show as a half-wit yokel, Justin Benson (“The Endless”), Ashley Song, Nicola Masciotra, Taylor Zaudtke, and creature performer Keith Arbuthnot as the man in the monster suit.
Speaking of the monster suit, the unknown origin creature is very Guillermo del Toro-esque with a quasi-rubbery look, but still renders terribly real with the puppetry facial expressions and Keith Arbuthnot contorting his body to exuberate natural movements. However, don’t look to be thrilled by a ferocious beast as the constant the source of contention. It’s more of an afterthought, a pleasant afterthought, filling Hank’s Abby void or is it? It’s a question you’ll be contemplating when the credits role when a monkey wrench finale disrupts your premediated blue print scheme of a reason for the creature’s existence. Romance and melancholy cross paths in an overwhelming heap of love sickness, guilt, disappointment, and jealousy in a well thought out, smart dialogued version of a self-growth narrative.
There always seems to a malevolent monster behind the scenes, perpetrating the demise of a flourishing relationship exemplified by a beautifully wicked allegory in “After Midnight” distributed onto DVD home video by Umbrella Entertainment. The transfer is presented in the original widescreen, 2.35:1 aspect ratio, on a region 4, 83 minute runtime disc. The presentation is virtually flawless with palatable natural coloring, gleaming southern-sweat coated, natural looking skin tones, and overall details with Hank, and Hank’s house, looking specifically grimy and unkempt. Greenery is of a brown lush backdropped inside what could be anywhere small town America. The English language 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound audio renders a nice range and depth with the monster’s muffled scratching and growling outside the door, the shotgun blasts are powerfully exalting, and the dialogue clearly couriers through all relationship qualms and Hanks droll dialogue. As of many Umbrella Entertainment standard feature releases, there are no bonus features nor a static menu. “After Midnight” is a contagious love story for not it’s mushy, heartfelt, weepie doting into the tears of self-pity, but for that lingering presence of sinister cynicism the monster epitomizes, a stark terror scratching every night under the skin until the unbearable hole in our hearts is finally sated by love’s return.