Not long ago vampires became the new zombies, finding popularity with mainstream audiences due to a potential for sex appeal absent in their rotting, undead counterparts. They’re now in danger of becoming so last year, so it’s up to films like Midnight Son (2011) to reclaim vampires from screaming teenage girls, and rejuvenate a decaying myth. Midnight Son achieves this by offering a lonely, modern take on vampirism, tapping a similar vein as George A. Romero’s Martin (1977). But while Martin considers the danger of gothic mythology being interpreted literally by modern religion and imposed on a susceptible young man’s unhinged psyche, Midnight Son uses vampirism to explore the despair behind addiction.
Midnight Son follows Jacob (Zak Kilberg), an introverted, skinny 24 year old who is informed by a doctor that his aversion to sunlight is caused by anaemia. Only able to venture out at night due to his condition, he meets Mary (Maya Parish) selling cigarettes and lollypops whilst rubbing cocaine into her gums outside a nightclub. A tender relationship blossoms between the two kindred spirits, both lost in society’s outskirts. Jacob’s cravings soon prove far deadlier than Mary’s cocaine habit as a perplexing taste for meat becomes a thirst for blood, satisfied by animal blood from a butcher’s until, whilst kissing Mary, a nosebleed causes him inadvertently to taste her blood. Afraid his cravings may cause him to hurt the one person he cares for, Jacob repeatedly forces Mary away as he becomes enslaved to an addiction he can’t discuss with anybody.
Jacob ends up buying bags of human blood from Marcus (Jo D. Jonz), an opportunistic hospital employee with a threatening demeanour, in grubby back alleys. As Jacob calmly waits for Marcus one night a twitchy junkie purchases his fix of more conventional narcotics a few metres away; a grim foreshadowing of his future desperation. The allegorical nature of Jacob’s addiction resonates in other striking images throughout. Once, starved and suffering deep withdrawal, he curls in the foetal position, while another scene sees him passed a tube connected to a corpse which he sucks blood through, as if toking on a bong.
Though such concepts sound graphic, Midnight Son is never gratuitous. Violence, especially blood sucking, almost always occurs off-screen, adding a horrific sense of mystique to such events which we share with Jacob, who cannot remember his darker moments as he wakes up covered in blood. In these scenes crimson blood staining Jacob’s pale skin is used to the utmost effect, at once shocking and beautiful. Considering this is the debut feature from Scott Leberecht, who was visual effects art director on Spawn (1997), Sleepy Hollow (1999) and, most terrifyingly, Flubber (1997), his restrained, nuanced approach reveals an understanding that sometimes leaving violent scenes to the imagination is far more effective.
If it all sounds dreadfully bleak the central romance, though tumultuous, is surprisingly heartwarming, with Kilberg and Parish showing a subtlety in their performances that belies their small resumes’. Midnight Son isn’t resurrecting the same glamorous vampires who’ve grown stagnant but offering something far more welcome; fresh blood.