Midnight is the gateway film for Kdrama fans who hate gore but crave horror. As the feature film debut of writer/director Oh-Seung Kwon, Midnight is a psychological thriller set in Seoul, South Korea starring Wi Ha-joon (Squid Game) as an unrelenting serial killer and Jin Ki-joo (Homemade Love Story) as the deaf customer service rep who spoils his evening plans. A clever horror film disguised as a Korean thriller, Midnight‘s nods to iconic horror elements, which pepper this otherwise tame cat-and-mouse plot, are a treat for the horror enthusiast.
We meet Do Shik, our killer, first. With a van full of quick-change outfits and weapons, he’s always ready for his next crime of opportunity. Think Billy Loomis with Patrick Bateman‘s budget. After his first kill outside of a Seoul factory, he reports the scene to the police and then stays behind to act as a key witness to his own crime, obviously thrilled to be performing. Almost immediately afterward he settles on his next victim (Kim Hye-yoon). The scene is stumbled upon by Kyung-Mi (Jin Ki-joo), a deaf call center agent on her way home.
“Midnight‘s nods to iconic horror elements […] are a treat for the horror enthusiast.”
What follows is a mad dash through downtown Seoul as Kyung-Mi tries to outrun the attacker, steer him away from her mother (Hae-yeon Kil), also deaf, and employ the help of Jong Tak So (Park Hoon)- the protective older brother of the killer’s latest victim. The most terrifying moments in the film occur with the change of location for the never-ending chase. With the only two witnesses to the crime being deaf and the killer being a cunning performer, it becomes nearly impossible for Kyung Mi to escape. Even the most public or authoritative spaces become a playground for Do Shik, an obstacle course with no exit for Kyung Mi.
The horror of the film is not in the gore (of which there is almost none) but in the moments when we see Kyung Mi make the best possible decision in impossible scenarios. Despite her best efforts, she’s foiled by bystanders or authority figures who dismiss her entirely due to her deafness in favor of Do Shik’s lies. Where films like Mike Flanagan’s Hush are set in an isolated rural neighborhood, implying that location contributes to the danger of being deaf in a hearing world, Midnight very pointedly makes the argument that it doesn’t matter at all. The film’s finale even takes place in the middle of a crowded shopping center in downtown Seoul.
Even with the drawbacks of literally trying to survive in a world built for the abled, Jin Ki-joo’s Kyung Mi makes a compelling final girl. With few lines and a lot more reacting than acting being done, we’re left to piece together her personality through split-second decisions and POV shots. The masterful score helps us connect with her in that way and will often center her point of view by simulating the rhythm of her heartbeat or emphasizing her silent screams with a crescendo of noise.
Midnight has clear Kdrama roots that it identifies with certain archetypes (hello overbearing big brother), monologues that carry on too long (classic!), and an underlying commentary on society’s dismissal of those in crisis that is increasingly apparent with every attempt made by Kyung Mi to get help. While the hard-core horror fan might dismiss this film as a melodramatic thriller, there is something here to be appreciated. It is definitely something you can put on for mixed company that will entertain. P.S. Keep an eye out for a visual reference to The Shining. With an ax-wielding maniac running around, it shouldn’t be hard to miss.
“While the hard-core horror fan might dismiss this film as a melodramatic thriller, there is something here to be appreciated.”
Oh-Seung Kwon’s Korean thriller Midnight, from Dread Presents’, is available OnDemand beginning April 5 and hits blu-ray stands May 10. Let u sknow what you thought of the film, and what you would do if a crazed murderer was chasing you all around town over on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and in the official Nightmare on Film Street Discord. Not a social media fan? Get more horror delivered straight to your inbox by joining the Neighbourhood Watch Newsletter.