Remember two years ago when that ill-advised remake of Eli Roth‘s Cabin Fever came out? Well that wasn’t a nightmare, it was real life. And now the man responsible for it has gifted us with another bland and unnecessary horror flick, The Midnight Man.
Directed by Travis Zariwny (or ‘Travis Z’ as listed in the credits), the proceedings begin in the 1950s. Huddled around three candles in a dark decrepit attic are three children. Surrounding them are a circle of salt on the floor and a sense of fear in the air. They’re playing a game. A game with a lot of rules. We know this because “those are the rules!” is shouted by each one of them approximately one thousand times.
It’s called The Midnight Game, and these are the rules (None of them actually matter, but we’ll get to that later): Each player has to light one candle, write their names on a piece of paper with a drop of blood next to it, and tape the paper to the front door. But only if the front door is made of wood. Why? Doesn’t matter, just keep following the instructions.
Next, knock on the door 22 times at the stroke of midnight before it reaches 12:01. Why 22 times? Just ’cause. Then, one person has to go outside and blow out their candle and come back inside and quickly relight it. You see, if your candle blows out over the three-hour-and-thirty-three-minute duration of the game and you don’t light it within ten seconds, you’re toast. The Midnight Man will come taunt and kill you in the form of your worst fear. How he knows your fear apparently depends on the time period. In the 1950s-set prologue the children had it written down. In the present day, he just kinda reads your mind.
Then you just sort of wait around trying to keep your candle lit until 3:33, when the game is officially over. You can sit in a salt circle for extra protection if you want. No promises it’ll work out for you though. Needless to say, things don’t end well for the three kids. Two of them are bumped off, and the other one is left forever traumatized.
Cut to present day. The leftover child, Anna (played by genre favorite Lin Shaye) is now a grandmother. Her granddaughter Alex (a robotic Gabrielle Haugh) is our protagonist, visiting her mostly bed-ridden grandma in the very same house from the prologue. Like most teens in horror flicks, she gets bored and calls a boy over. Enter Miles (Grayson Gabriel), who walks in on Alex when she’s just discovering the haunted game in the attic. The two are inspecting the contents of the box with an unnecessarily intense curiosity. It harbors half-burned candles and “a salt shaker,” Miles effortlessly notices, even though it looks nothing like a salt shaker, instead resembling the vial that holds the youth serum in Death Becomes Her.
The two are interrupted by a shrieking Anna, exclaiming “YOU OPENED THE GAME!” before falling unconscious. Perhaps the best thing about this movie is the gusto Lin Shaye brings to the role. The woman doesn’t half-ass things, folks. No matter how mediocre the material provided. Anyway, like any normal person, they call the family doctor played by none other than Freddy Kruger himself, Robert Englund. Doc’s prognosis? “Getting old… it’s just not much fun” he tells Alex, who was no-doubt hoping for an actual explanation.
So, grandma’s back in bed, the doc leaves, and now we can commence our bad-decision-making for the evening. And you know what that means… GAME TIME! The two mindlessly follow the rules conveniently typed out on an old wrinkled piece of paper at the bottom of the box and are subsequently interrupted by fellow teen Kelly (an unintentionally hilarious Emily Haine), who is somehow imbued with a breadth of knowledge about the game at hand. “You guys definitely need my help,” she says presumptuously, all too eager to add her blood drop to the list of players. And so begins a night of sheer… yawns.
What transpires carries little to no weight thanks to a group of performances so boring they could cure insomnia. For reference, I point you to the scene where Alex regales her pals with the story of her mother’s suicide, performed by Haugh with the emotion of a paper plate. Not to be outdone, the terrible writing swoops in and rears its ugly head when Kelly responds to her story with “wow, and I thought my family was messed up.”
As Kelly, Emily Haine gets the brunt of the poor dialogue. There’s a scene where she is by herself in a salt circle in some sort of enclosed porch having a stand off with The Midnight Man. He pokes a hole in a water bucket to wash away the salt. “That’s cheating!” she shouts. “Try and stop me” he says, which fires Kelly right up. “Oh, two can play at that game” she warns, and then races against time (a puddle of water) to… pour dirt on the floor to stop it. Pleased with her own prowess, she shouts, “see that, you F*CKING FREAK?!”
And perhaps most puzzling of all is the reveal of her fear. Is it clowns? No. Spiders? No. The dark? Nope. Give up? It’s rabbits. She’s afraid of rabbits. And that’s not even the head-scratcher. Wanna know why she’s scared of them? Because she literally murdered one when she was a child. By slitting its throat.
Continuing with the downward spiral of quality (which already had a very low starting point), it gets real lazy when [**Spoilers**] we find out that The Midnight Man doesn’t give a sh*t about any of the all-important “rules” of his own game. Why place so much emphasis on them, just to show us that even the big bad himself is completely unaffected by them. What’s the point? And if he can then technically kill anyone he wants, what was so damn special about Anna that made him spare her in the first place? [**End of Spoilers**]
Among the rough, however, there are a few small diamonds in the form of Lin Shaye and Robert Englund. The two genre champs admirably give their all here, with Englund making the most of his doctor character who seems to exist only for exposition. Practically manifesting out of nowhere late in the movie for literally no reason than to explain whats happening to the kids. And then there’s the lovely Shaye, whose plant-filled Instagram account belies her killer scream-queen abilities. The woman’s still got it.
At the end of the day, even those two aren’t enough to garner a recommendation from me. But what else would you expect from a low-profile VOD horror release? They’re pretty much guaranteed to fade into the dark recesses of the internet. Those are the rules.
The Midnight Man is available now on digital platforms.