Ambiguity might be the most useful item in the science fiction toolbox. Blade Runner’s mysteries still rob people of sleep, and you’d need a wall chart to work out Shane Carruth’s Primer. However, when used in rash abundance — as in this latest film from Mud and Take Shelter director Jeff Nichols — the results can leave the viewer in a rather less complimentary state of bafflement. The details in Midnight Special, Nichols’ homage-heavy sci-fi thriller set in his signature Deep South locale, are sometimes so scant as to be jarring. Yes, less is often more in Hollywood, but it can also be just plain less.
We open on a police broadcast as, from a motel room, two men (Michael Shannon and Joel Edgerton) and a boy named Alton (Jaeden Lieberher, decked out in blue goggles) speed away in a car. The newscaster reports that the child has been abducted, but the affection between the men suggests otherwise. Next, we see a cult preacher (Sam Shepard) conducting a nighttime sermon. The Feds roll up and take the congregation in for questioning. It seems the boy was some sort of messiah to the group and the man who took him (Shannon) is his biological father.