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Midnight Review

April 6, 2022 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
Midnight Image Credit: Dread Presents
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Midnight Review  

Directed by: Kwon Oh-seung
Written by: Kwon Oh-seung

Jin Ki-joo – Kim Kyung-mi
Wi Ha-joon – Do-sik
Gil Hae-yeon – Kyung-mi’s mother
Kim Hye-yoon – Choi So-jung
Park Hoon – Jong-tak

Running Time: 103 minutes
Not Rated

It’s been a real joy to watch the rise to prominence of Korean genre cinema. The country that hit the ultimate height for its genre pieces with 2019 Best Picture winner Parasite has been killing it for years, delivering films like Train to Busan, The Wailing and Burning – to say nothing of the violent delights of Park Chan-wook (Oldboy) or Kim Jee-woon (I Saw the Devil).

Kwon Oh-seung is new to the game with his directorial debut Midnight but if this film is any indication, he’s on a path toward inclusion with the masters of Korean genre. His thriller is a white-knuckle affair once it gets to its cat-and-mouse serial killer games, relying on strong performances and stellar craft work to sail its story through enjoyable (if sometimes brow-raising) waters.

Midnight starts with its killer, as Do-sik (Squid Game star Wi Ha-joon) lures a woman into coming too close to his van for her own good. After this tense opening scene that shows how savvy Do-sik is around police, we move onto Kyung-mi (Jin Ki-joo), a young deaf woman who works as a sign language representative at a call center. Kyung-mi lives with her mother (Gil Hae-yeon), also deaf, and together they’re planning to get away from it all with a trip to holiday destination Jeju Island.

Those plans are thrown awry when, after parking her car after a long day, Kyung-mi comes across a woman (Kim Hye-yoon) who was brutally attacked in an alleyway. Do-sik is not far away, and soon Kyung-mi and her mother finds themselves in a cat-and-mouse game to stay alive as Do-sik hunts them – and takes advantage of the fact that the police take his fully abled, charming persona more seriously than the two women who they have difficulty communicating with.

Image Credit: Dread Presents

Midnight’s base premise – “Serial killer stalks deaf woman” – brings to mind Mike Flanagan’s solid 2016 home invasion thriller Hush. However, Kwon’s film is a bigger production than that and delves into more interesting territory, in part due to a more interesting set of characters. That’s thanks to a script that effectively builds the relationship between Kyung-mi and her mother, as well as the cast. Jin gives a nerve-wracking performance as Kyung-mi, who gets the opportunity to be resourceful and intelligent without ever being infallible. Kwon’s script smartly avoids the trap some films fall into of treating its disabled characters as less than; Kyung-mi and her mother are perceptive, clever women who may make the wrong choices in a panic, but their deafness is only a hindrance in how they are treated and interacted with.

Jin is well matched in Wi, who gives a standout performance as the villainous Do-sik. This is a serial killer performance that matches up with some of the best in film memory; Wi is able to turn on the charm when he has to, but he’s also able to flip a switch into absolute menace. Fans who know his work in Squid Game as police officer Hwang Jun-ho will find a new dynamic to his acting talents, one that makes Do-sik’s devilish hunt of Kyung-mi breathlessly compelling.

For a first-time writer/director, Kwon shows a lot of technical acumen in how he shoots his tale. While his script leans heavily on some well-known genre tropes and plot contrivances, it’s the camera’s use of space and lighting (as well as Sung Yoon-yong’s sound team) that allows this film to stand out. For a film centered on two characters who lack one of the senses, the use of sound cutting out is kept fairly restrained which makes it all the more effective and tense when it happens.

The film does lose its way a bit in the late second and early third act when Jong-tak, the brother of the girl Kyung-mi stumbled on being attacked, gets involved. There’s just a bit too much going on, and the film has to let up off the oppressive tension a couple of times to change its focus. But a final act sequence involving a crowded mall area brings it all home with a few white-knuckle, edge of your seat moments and the two leads truly going head-to-head.

Kwon never loses track of the film’s sense of danger; it truly feels throughout the film that no one is potentially safe, in the best possible way. It’s a testament to the Kwon’s grasp of the genre and the actors’ performances that the audience end up invested in this film, even when there are a few frustrating plot moments and character decisions along the way.

Midnight is now available on VOD through Apple TV, Vudu, and other digital retailers.

The final score: review Very Good
The 411
The South Korean cat-and-mouse thriller Midnight is a powerful debut from filmmaker Kwon Oh-seung. With badass performances from Jin Ki-joo and Wi Ha-joon supplemented by a keen sound design, strong visuals and no shortage of tense moments, this film is already one of the top thrillers of 2022 and one genre fans should absolutely check out.

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Midnight, Jeremy Thomas