Fantastic Fest Review: After Midnight

We're definitely digging Jeremy Gardner's scene

We really should come up with a term for the filmmakers of Fantastic Fest. If Joe Swanberg and the Duplass brothers can give birth to mumblecore, then the work of Jeremy Gardner– who eschews conventional Hollywood settings in favor of locations in New England and Florida – is certainly deserving of its own clever moniker.

Throw in his close connections to filmmakers like Mickey Keating, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, and Joe Begos, and it feels like a disservice to not be able to throw a catch-all term at a title like After Midnight. There’s a lot of familiar ground being covered (in the best possible way).

It’s been weeks since Abby (Brea Grant) pinned a note to the door and walked out on her Florida life, and Hank (Gardner) is not handling it particularly well. When he’s not drinking too much – both at home and at the bar he and Abby co-own – he’s wandering through his house in a daze, picking up pieces of their shared life together and flashing back to happier times together. Oh, and then there’s the giant monster that lays siege to Hank’s house every night, causing him to shoot wildly into the night. That’s a bit of a bummer, too.

In interviews, Gardner has spoken openly about After Midnight being inspired by the end of his own ten-year relationship. The intimacy of this narrative – as well as Gardner’s typical do-everything approach as writer, co-director, co-editor, and star – is what gives the film its unique voice. Breakup stories masquerading as horror movies aren’t exactly hard to find, but it should come as no surprise to fans of Gardner’s previous films that this story is built from the inside out. We may have seen couples like this in other movies, but we’ve never seen this couple, and the little flourishes that define their relationship – from peanut wine to karaoke selections that bring down the house – feel utterly unique.

Like Gardner’s other films, After Midnight is a charmingly low-fi approach to big ideas. There’s a sense in his work that you are watching genre filmmaking stripped down to its most essential elements; relationships, loss, and the looming threat of disaster are all you really need to make a movie work, and Gardner and co-director Christian Stella know this (and deliver it) better than anyone. It may seem disrespectful to the artists to suggest their movie is better because of its limitations – there’s a fine line between calling a film accessible and calling it cheap – but After Midnight feels intimate in a way that a bigger movie probably could not.

This gives After Midnight an impressive amount of emotional weight, even in the moments where Gardner struggles to find a unique voice for Abby. While both leads are as good as they’ve ever been – Grant has a ten-minute monologue that should immediately replace her demo reel in its entirety – there’s no denying the film is rooted in Hank’s perspective. Abby sometimes feels like a cipher; since she expresses most of her dissatisfaction in position to her relationship with Hank, her needs and desires are never as developed as those of her boyfriend. This story may belong to Gardner (and Hank), but a little extra insight into Abby as a person might have made After Midnight an all-timer.

Still. Even without a completely balanced relationship at the film’s center, After Midnight offers an endearing mixture of humor and thirtysomething ennui. Whether Hank’s life is being upended by a literal monster or a particularly aggressive metaphor, Gardner perfectly captures what it feels like to hold yourself together when everyone around you recognizes that you’re falling apart. And if you can walk away from After Midnight without feeling forever weirded out by bar mats? Brother, you’re a better man than I.

After Midnight

Texas Premiere
Wed., Sept. 25, 11:30pm

Want more? Read our interview with the fimmakers, "Living After Midnight With Jeremy Gardner and Christian Stella," Sept. 19.

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Fantastic Fest, Fantastic Fest 2019, Jeremy Gardner, Brea Grant, After Midnight

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