Midnight [Grimmfest Review]: Keep Running
South Korean cinema is becoming ever more well known for its intense Thriller genre. Social commentary Thriller Parasite brought a lot of attention back to this well stocked genre that includes the likes of Oldboy, I Saw the Devil, The Chaser and Memories of Murder, just to name a few. Adding itself to this list of tense and taut Thriller offerings is the feature debut by writer and director Oh-Seung Kwon. Weaving an interlinked narrative about a deaf and mute mother and daughter, a protective brother and his younger sister, and a serial killer who preys on vulnerable women, Midnight is a twisting crime story that has an unrelenting pace and an intense outcome.
Unlike many Crime Thrillers that rely on shrouding their villains in mystery and having them be slowly revealed to the audience, Midnight wastes no time in introducing us to its confident and capable serial killer. His neon lit van opens the film as he takes his first victim, posing as a victim himself to lure a young woman to him in the night. His actions after that, calling the police and asking for a cigarette from one of the officers whilst blaming three ‘foreign’ workers for the woman’s death, prove that this is not his first kill, and that he’s not just psychotic but also teeming with arrogance. For Do Shik (Wi Ha-Joon), this kill is just the beginning, the warm up for another night of playing cat and mouse with three new potential victims.
Kyung Mi (Ki-joo Jin) works as a call centre consultant for those with hearing impairments. After a particularly disappointing meeting with some clients who turn out to be utter misogynistic pigs, she heads to pick up her mother, but not before slamming these privileged males with her signing skills, much to their utter ignorance. Both Kyung Mi and her mother (Hae-yeon Kil) are deaf and mute, communicating through sign language and utilising sensory devices that alert them to noise both in their home and their vehicle. Similar to Flanagan’s home invasion film Hush, these devices are employed later on in the film, ramping up the fear and tension of these women’s struggles.
“Towards the climax of the film there’s a scene in the brightly lit streets of South Korea that proves a crowd doesn’t always mean safety, especially when a man’s voice holds more power than a woman’s signs, and this infuriating message hits hard.”
Alongside the set up of this caring mother daughter relationship is another familial duo. Ex-police officer Jong Tak So (Park Hoon) and his younger sister So Jung (Kim Hye-Yoon) are arguing about her choice of clothes for a date. Jong Tak So is being overprotective, to a domineering degree, banning her from wearing shorts, unless she wants to die out there on the mean streets. It’s a shame he is so correct in his over the top warning, as So Jung is assaulted by the serial killer Do Shik. Luckily for her she is found by Kyung Mi. Unfortunately, that’s very unlucky for Kyung Mi as she, along with her mother, have now been caught in the sights of a ruthless and single-minded predator.
Now the chase begins, as Do Shik stalks the two vulnerable women, unaware he is also being hunted down by protective big brother Jong Tak So. The tension of these scenes is amplified by incredible sound design, something so essential to both Horror and Thrillers to cause heart racing panic and increase the suspense. As Kyung Mi is hunted the audio switches from the overpowering sounds of city life to her muted world, immersing us in the struggle she has and forcing us to focus all the more on every movement on screen, every flickering shadow behind her. It also allows for some incredible atmospherics and jump scares, proving first time director Oh-Seung Kwon really knows how to scare his audience.
As the film unfolds it continues in its simplicity to be a game of killer hide-and-seek, with one team feeling disadvantaged by their disability and the other feeling overly confident because of this. The straightforward premise is effective because of the characters within this world, the two families have loving relationships and deeply care for one another which makes it impossible not to worry about them as they are separated and stalked. The reason this plot can even sustain its runtime is because the odds seem to keep falling in the favour of Do Shik, something that carries with it social underpinnings and a commentary on the treatment of both women and the disabled. Police officers are quick to dismiss the two non-verbal women, ignoring their testimonies and even thanking the killer at one time for his ‘cooperation’ in the case. Towards the climax of the film there’s a scene in the brightly lit streets of South Korea that proves a crowd doesn’t always mean safety, especially when a man’s voice holds more power than a woman’s signs, and this infuriating message hits hard.
With excellent performances across the board, including a sinister and psychotic turn from, now household name, Wi Ha-Joon (Squid Games), Midnight is a thrilling ride of twists, turns and a whole heap of running. It’s the type of film that has its audience screaming at the screen and clutching tensely onto anything near them. It joins the list of must-watch South Korean Horror and Thriller films, and holds a message about those who are isolated and victimised fighting back and striving for survival against those privileged enough to hide in plain sight. Tense, beautifully shot and palpitation inducing, Midnight definitely makes a strong impression.