Writer-director Jeremy Gardner made a huge impression among discerning horror fans with his micro-budgeted but quite marvelous 2012 directorial debut, The Battery, which starred him and Adam Cronheim as a pair of baseball players wandering through the zombie apocalypse. Now Gardner is returning to the horror genre with After Midnight (out Feb. 14), which he co-directed with Battery cinematographer Christian Stella. Gardner once again stars, this time as a Florida-dwelling gent named Hank whose girlfriend, Abby, leaves him. Worse? Every night, a monster tries to break down his front door.

"Hank is this small-town, good-old-boy hunter, about 10 years into a long-term relationship," Gardner tells EW. "He wakes up one morning and his partner, Abby, has just gone, [leaving] just a very cryptic note. Around the same time she leaves, something starts coming out of the swamp at night and scratching at the door and trying to get in. You don't know if he's losing his mind, because he doesn't know where she is, he doesn't know what this thing is, people don't believe him. So it's kind of a creature-feature romance."

"We like to make movies that focus on characters," says Stella. "I'm a romantic at heart, so this movie's a romance first and a monster movie second. It's kind of the perfect date movie, actually. You get the romance and then you get the monster."

Abby is played by horror genre fan favorite Brea Grant, whose credits include Rob Zombie's Halloween II, Beyond the Gates, and the TV show Heroes.

"Brea's Abby is really the heart and soul of the movie," Gardner says. "You're in it from Hank's perspective, [but] there's a moment where she really gets to have her say. It was a very long, 14-minute monologue. We reached out to a couple of other actresses during the casting process and they all sent back just a couple of clips. We reached out to Brea and she did the whole monologue. She was like, 'If you're going to make me audition, I'm going to show you that I can do something.' When we saw that, we were totally sold."

After Midnight
Credit: Cranked Up Films

The movie's producers include Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, the duo responsible for the brain-twisting horror tales Resolution and The Endless, as well as the Lovecraftian love story Spring, in which Gardner appears.

"I originally met them on the festival circuit with The Battery and they were touring with Resolution," says Gardner. "We became friends. Before Spring was shooting, I sent [this] script and Justin went, 'You're never going to believe this, but we're doing a monster romance.' But they were both so kind. The told me it was the best script that they had been sent. As their star continued to ascend, and they had a little more clout, they came back with Dave Lawson, their producer, and were like, 'Look, we want to try and help get this thing made.'"

Benson even agreed to take a role in the film.

"Justin plays the sheriff, he's kind of the voice of reason," Gardner says. "He's also Abby's brother, so when Abby goes missing, he's checking in on Hank, and trying to convince him that this monster thing is just a bear or something from the woods, it's nothing supernatural, and that he just needs to get his s— together."

The film's creature was created by the company MastersFX, whose many previous film credits include Slither, Sinister, and 1995's Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knight, a personal favorite of Gardner's.

"It's one of my favorite movies in the world," he says. "I'm actually staring at the poster in my office right now. They were very kind to work on a budget. It's a really unique, amazing thing that they came up with. The poor actor in that suit had to sit in a full-body monster suit in 100 degrees in the summer in Florida. We had to take that head off every five minutes to make sure he was alive."

After Midnight is released in select theaters and on-demand Feb. 14. Exclusively watch the trailer for the film above and see the movie's poster, below.

After Midnight
Credit: Courtesy Cranked Up Films

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