We’ve all experienced heartbreak, be it the unexpected loss of a loved one, a failed relationship, or a subliminal trauma. Jeremy Gardner and Christian Stella’s horror-drama hybrid After Midnight examines the repercussions of such tragedies through the eyes of a man who lives in a remote house deep in the woods. When his girlfriend unexpectedly disappears, leaving behind a cryptic note, he starts to lose his mind. Then again, maybe he is not?
Hank (Gardner) brings his girlfriend, aspiring winemaker Abby (Brea Grant), over to his expansive but somewhat-dilapidated mansion on her birthday. They are tender and passionate towards each other, their relationship showing no visible signs of crisis. In a purposefully unexpected, jarring cut, we flash-forward to Abby’s disappearance, and a half-crazed Hank fighting off…. something with a shotgun. “Ever since you left, some kind of thing has been coming out of the woods every night,” he tells Abby over voicemail, before informing her: “I also think that monster ate your cat.”
“…flash-forward to Abby’s disappearance, and a half-crazed Hank fighting off…. something with a shotgun.”
Shane (Justin Benson), a police officer, thinks it’s a black bear. Hank leaves out traps, but the beast pries itself free. After seeing its pool of blood on Hank’s front porch, his friend Wade (Henry Zebrowski) joins in the fruitless hunt. “A panther could’ve done all this,” Wade says. “They’re on the rebound.” There’s an unexpected character (re)appearance in the second half of the film… Without spoiling much more, I’ll just say After Midnight ends with an extended cover version of a popular song, and a hilarious shock worthy of comparisons to that infamous “Sam-Jackson-gets-swallowed-by-giant-shark” scene in Deep Blue Sea.
We hear the creature’s roar, we see its claws, and the scratches it leaves on the front door. We even get a decent glimpse of it when a shotgun flares. Gardner and Stella wisely keep the creature out of sight for most of the narrative, begging the question: is it all inside Hank’s mind? Utilizing the unreliable narrator certainly works in the film’s favor. We question the creature, Hank’s current state of mind, and the rose-tinted portrayal of his relationship with Abby, which may not be as idyllic as it first seems.