Midnight (2021)

Quick synopsis: A young deaf woman and her mother battle with a serial killer after they accidentally interrupt one of his kills.

This probably has the highest score on Rotten Tomatoes than any other film I’ve reviewed, a full 100%. Sadly that’s more a representation of how few reviewers recognised by the site have reviewed this film (only 13), and not a representation of the quality. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good, it’s very good, but it’s not the “best film ever”. It’s a really well-made thriller, well-directed with a superb cast. I think I’m a little bit in love with Jin Ki-Joo after this, she’s incredibly likeable and easy to root for. That’s a massive plus because it means no matter how charismatic the killer is, you’re still rooting for her. A lot of films make the mistake of making the killer too charismatic, too sexy, and too “cool”, so when they approach people and prepare to kill them, you’re kind of cheering them on, you want to see the kills. Because the characters in this (all of them, but especially Ki-Joo’s character of Kim Kyung-Mi) are so well written and performed, you want them to survive, you’re devastated when harm (or even just the threat of harm) comes to them.

Normally in a thriller, the thing that makes it work is the directing; the visuals and the music combining to create an air of tension and claustrophobia. This is the writer/director’s debut film, but you wouldn’t have guessed considering how slick everything looks. Saying that the visuals are probably the weakest part, there are moments when you can’t really get a good sense of what’s happening and it would have helped if certain things were clarified visually in terms of who is doing what to who. This is very evident in the opening, which is fine the second time you watch it, but on initial viewing it does make you feel like you’ve just woken up from a nap halfway through a film, wondering “okay who’s that?”, “am I supposed to know that person?”, “is that the same person as before?” etc. If you’re the sort of person who decides whether to judge a film by the opening scene (like that one reviewer for Toy Story 3 who maintained that Hamm was the villain, showing that not actually watching the film you’re paid to review doesn’t mean you can’t review it and win awards for your writing somehow), you’ll avoid this. If you watch past that scene you’ll end up with one of the early highlights; Kyeong-mi in her job (customer service). She’s dealing with a very angry woman, but maintains a joyful smile on her face, even when she decides to respond to the woman by slowly raising her middle finger to her. It says so much about who she is as a character and highlights how the director knows people (apparently some of his ancestors were people). That’s something we all want to do, and it’s hilarious to see her do it. Even more hilarious is when she uses her deafness to her advantage when dealing with a group of clients, using sign language to insult all of them directly to their faces without them noticing. It’s great at showcasing not only how personable she is, but also how smart she is, you realise that in a film like this, she is smart enough to survive if she needed to.

In a decent world, this film would not work. Not just because of the whole “murder” thing, but also because there are moments that only happen because the majority of people have no idea how to communicate non-verbally with someone. It’s not just they don’t know how, but that they don’t care to attempt. They make no effort to communicate with her, they just say “we can’t understand you”, slowly, and loudly (a bit like when English people go on holiday and speak to the natives).

I suppose I should mention the villain; Do-Shik, played by Wi Ha-Joon. How can I put this delicately? He’s a gosh darn psychopath, a big meany, and a stupidhead. A total cunt. He seems dangerous, but also like he’s watched a lot of television. He’s clearly basing himself off murderers he’s seen on television. That’s very believable, the prevalence of murder in media means that real-life serial killers are starting to base themselves on fictional ones, so it’s only natural that fictional murderers would do the same. He’s played brilliantly, I’m not familiar with Wi Ha-Joon, but he seems like he’s playing the character as the lead from a romantic comedy, which is the absolute PERFECT way to play someone like this. The moment where he loses control of the situation near the end is great, he seems like a completely different person, a complete personality switch that is incredible to see. That moment also allows something that could only happen in a film like this; it does the traditional “yes you stabbed me, but I still win, haha” moment, but because of the deafness of the character, she delivers it via bloodstained fingers. Adds a different layer to it and I love it.

So in summary, I’d suggest this. It’s not a nice watch, but it’s incredibly compelling, and you won’t find a better friendship chemistry than the one between the two leads here.

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