Credit: Ben Rothstein

Like a more idiosyncratic, indie-bred version of Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro, the partnership between writer-director Jeff Nichols and Michael Shannon feels like a rare gift from the movie gods. Shannon, with his quizzical brow and disquieting intensity, is an actor who dares us to lean in. He turns slow-boiling menace into a mystery we want to solve—possibly at our own peril. Nichols, the man behind 2011’s Take Shelter and 2012’s Mud, gets the actor’s creepy magnetism better than anyone. And he puts it to its best use yet in the strangely hypnotic sci-fi thriller Midnight Special. The film opens in a Texas motel room, where Shannon’s Roy and Joel Edgerton’s Lucas seem to be holding an 8-year-old boy named Alton (St. Vincent’s Jaeden Lieberher) hostage. But Roy is actually Alton’s father, and the kid’s no ordinary kid. He possesses a supernatural power that a religious cult and the government are both after. Usually Alton is shy and quiet, poring over superhero comics. But then he’ll start speaking in tongues, or a blinding white Village of the Damned light will shoot from his eyes. Is he a prophet? A security threat? An alien conduit? As father and son speed toward some doomsday reckoning, Nichols keeps us guessing in a way that evokes Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Midnight Special is a more modest, more enigmatic film than that one was, but it’s no less gripping. A–

Midnight Special
  • Movie
  • 111 minutes