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Haunted Sideshow

Dustin Putman

The Midnight Man  (2018)
2½ Stars
Directed by Travis Zariwny.
Cast: Gabrielle Haugh, Lin Shaye, Grayson Gabriel, Robert Englund, Emily Haine, Michael Sirow, Summer Howell, Keenan Lehmann, Meredith Rose, Louise Linton, Callie Lane, Abigail Pniowsky, Logan Creran, Kyle Strauts, William Jordan.
2018 – 95 minutes
Not Rated (equivalent of an R for bloody violence and language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman for, June 7, 2018.
Think of "The Midnight Man" as a ghastly horror version of 1995's "Jumanji," only in place of exotic wild animals being unleashed on the players of a game it is a demonic supernatural ghoul hunting and murdering those who do not adhere to the strict rules to which they are bound. Writer-director Travis Zariwny (2016's "Cabin Fever"), liberally adapting from effective 2013 Irish film "Midnight Man" (hold the "The"), isn't immune to some numbskull plotting, but he makes up for the lacking IQ points of his characters by crafting some genuinely shuddersome situations and imagery.

Alex (Gabrielle Haugh) has moved in with grandmother Anna (Lin Shaye) to care for her. With her mind ravaged by dementia, Anna is prone to sharp mood swings, disjointed demands, and nighttime wandering. The ever-patient Alex is glad to be there for her, but she's also restless. Perhaps her boredom is one reason she and friends Miles (Grayson Gabriel) and Kelly (Emily Haine) decide to play a mysterious game found in the attic despite Anna's intense warnings of how dangerous it is. Once the game starts and the Midnight Man (Kyle Strauts) is unleashed into the house at the strike of midnight, it is up to the players to evade his deadly clutches until 3:33 a.m. This proves easier said than done as Alex and her pals come to discover what a trickster the Midnight Man is, a devious reaper with the ability to twist reality and play in the minds of his victims.

"The Midnight Man" opens with a jolt as three children in 1953 are terrorized in their home during the final stretch of The Midnight Game. Moving forward to the present, the viewer is already aware how foolish it would be for anyone to dare play it, and yet this is exactly what Alex does even after Anna makes an understandable scene when she discovers Alex has found the game in the attic. What follows is a macabre cat-and-mouse game with a figurative feline who refuses to play fair. Surreal visuals, a creepy villain, and ample moments of suspense follow. The actors are up to the task of making this wild premise plausible: Gabrielle Haugh (2017's "Jeepers Creepers III") is an appealing heroine even if some early actions are worthy of a forehead smack; Lin Shaye (2018's "Insidious: The Last Key") is excellent at wavering between vulnerable and disconcertingly unhinged as grandmother Alex; and Robert Englund (2015's "The Funhouse Massacre") makes a welcome appearance as Dr. Harding, a physician with ties to Anna's traumatic past. "The Midnight Man" isn't exactly deep and the film is not quite sure how to stick the landing—its final moments are needlessly unclear toward one character's fate—but as a trifle offering a stylish sheen and a handful of effective chills it proves more successful than not.
© 2018 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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