Seeing the name Steven Spielberg attached to a movie conjures up adventure, whimsy, and danger, in a family-friendly way, of course. Upon hearing that Quentin Tarantino has a new movie coming out and you’ll know it will contain violence and verbose dialogue. Pedigrees of this kind exist in the independent movie world as well.
The new horror movie Minutes To Midnight has a distinguished pedigree, which rises expectations before the viewer even knows anything about the plot. The script is written by new face in town Christopher M. Don and Asylum Studios regular scribe Victoria Dadi, behind that production company’s fun 2012: Ice Age. Jack-of-all-trades Laura Beth Love is the director of photography, while Joseph J. Lawson supervised the special effects. The slasher flick stars Richard Grieco, William Baldwin, Bill Moseley, Christopher Judge, Dominique Swain, and John Hennigan in major and supporting roles. Most importantly, it is directed by b-movie royalty, in Christopher Douglas Olen Ray, son of Fred Olen Ray. All of this should have connoisseurs of low budgeted horror flicks chomping at the bit. So, does Minutes To Midnight live up to its potential, based solely on the people that created it? For the most part, yes.
Travis (John Hennigan) is searching for his brother and his brother’s girlfriend, both of whom have been missing for the last ten days. He goes through the town closest to the woods they were camping in, asking any and everyone if they have seen the couple. No one has seen them, so he sets into the woods hoping to find clues.
“…searching for his brother and his girlfriend, both missing for the last ten days. He goes through the town closest to the woods…”
Meanwhile, to ring in the new year, Tiffani (Jena Sims), Sophia (Sara Fletcher), Kyle (Phillip Andre Botello), Vanessa (Heather Paige Cohn), and Michael (Bryce Draper) go to a cabin in the woods. Travis finds them there and asks for help finding his brother. This occurs as Sheriff Wyatt (Richard Grieco), and Ranger Taso (Christopher Judge) are investigating a rash of murders, which seem to be escalating the closer to the new year the day gets.
Don and Dadi’s script does contain quite a few cliches. It is obvious Sophia is the final girl seconds after her introduction, and of course one of the friends is a total dickhead. Michael laughs off Travis’s plea for help and later on chases who believes is Travis out from the property lines. What is the reason he is an unempathetic jerk? Soley because the script calls for it.
Once past the very stock characters, the plot is somewhat engaging. The kills are creative, and the reason behind them works rather well. Travis and his quest provide a nice emotional anchor to keep the audience invested. The ending does ratchet up the insanity nicely while also tying in all the plot strands in a very satisfying manner.
After his woeful miscasting in one of his first leading roles, Hercules Reborn, Hennigan has found himself as an actor. He is easily the best wrestler-turned-actor since Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. He brings a lot of gravitas to the role and comes off as sincere. Fletcher’s interaction with William Baldwin, who plays her caring boss, allows her to show a vulnerable side that she doesn’t show to her friends. Baldwin is, and a speech he has near the end is perfectly balanced between drama and menace.
“…the way the moonlight filters through the windows and the use of space makes for a bloody good time.”
Grieco and Judge share a lot of screen time, and their chemistry sells their working relationship well. They respect each other and want to get to the bottom of the murders as soon as possible. A sequence in which Judge’s ranger is looking around an abandoned camp is creepy as hell, and he sells the tension well.
Christopher Ray directs Minutes To Midnight with gusto and verve. Michael and Tiffani go searching in the woods and discover an abandoned building. As they explore it, the long shot in the hall switches to a dolly arcing through the lobby, suggesting that someone might be watching them. As they continue, the editing ramps up until mayhem is unleashed on Tiffani. It is a scary moment that is well built up. Not all the chills work though, as a few of the jump scares aren’t memorable or necessary.
Laura Beth Love’s cinematography makes for a beautiful looking movie, with great lighting and atmosphere. The killer breaks into the cabin and is killing someone in a bedroom and the way the moonlight filters through the windows and the use of space makes for a bloody good time. That is also thanks to Bobby K. Richardson’s furious editing, which allows the chaos to continue without any sequence to be hacked to pieces.
Minutes To Midnight won’t win any awards for originality, as it does play around with stock characters and an overused plot. But the directing, editing, acting, and creep factor make for a movie well worth checking out.
Minutes To Midnight (2018) Directed by Christopher Ray. Written by Christopher M. Don, Victoria Dadi. Starring Sara Fletcher, Richard Grieco, Christopher Judge, William Baldwin, Dominique Swain, Bill Moseley.
8 Gummi Bears (out of 10)