Fantasia Film Festival this year features many international feature films, including a number of South Korean films. Midnight, an Official Selection of New York Asian Film Festival 2021 makes its Canadian premier at Fantasia. In recent years, South Korea has come out with a number of films that have been big hits with North American audiences; of course, Parasite comes to mind, along with films like The Wailing and Train to Busan.
The beginning of the film shows us a nameless woman, leaving work late, getting abducted by a man in a van. The man calls the police himself after committing his crimes; he blames the dead bodies on “foreign workers”. This sets the stage to show us just how manipulative and conniving our killer is, and just how quick the police are to believe him.
Right from the beginning, Midnight does not shy away from showing us the types of sexism women often face, along with some of the difficulties that come with having a disability. It does this without being heavy-handed in its messaging, while still being clear in it’s depictions. As So-jung gets ready for a blind date, her brother Jong-tak warns her to change her outfit, lest she wind up dead. Kyung-mi, at a dinner with co-workers and clients, sees the horrible lewd comments the male clients are making about her — she can read lips.
Kyung-mi (Kim Hye-Yoon) comes across the murderer when she is meeting up with her mother one night after work. The two of them are so sweet; clearly very close, and they’re looking forward to taking a vacation together. They’re also both deaf. While most viewers will typically root for any potential victims running away from a murderer, you’ll really find yourself stressed out and nervous when the killer starts heading towards Kyung-mi’s mother. Right off the bat, you’ll find yourself caring for the two of them and their safety.
One of the ways that Midnight separates itself from your typical cat and mouse thriller is in its sound design, and in the decision to have hearing impaired characters. Much like 2020’s Sound of Metal, a film about a drummer losing his hearing (that won the 2020 Oscar for Best Sound) Midnight lends clever insight to what it might be like to be hearing impaired.
Having characters who cannot hear or scream also adds a layer of stress missing from most thrillers of this sort; because Kyung-mi and her mother cannot hear, they are extra vulnerable, despite modern technologies that help to make life easier for those with hearing impairments.
Adding to the stress is that the killer in Midnight, Do Shik, is a master manipulator. Do Shik is young, handsome, and smart. Sure, it seems like luck goes his way a few times, but he’s also very clever. The police are pretty damn incompetent; not only do they not take the time to really pay attention to Kyung-mi and her mother, they are also very easily manipulated by Do Shik (Wi Ha-joon); when one of them lights his cigarette for him, you’ll probably audibly groan.
Without a doubt, Midnight would be a great movie to see in a theater. There are some great fight scenes and plenty of excellent chases, including one across four lanes of highway traffic. It’s a scary movie — Do Shik is a scary, totally unhinged guy — but it’s also really enjoyable and fun.
At every turn where Kyung-mi tries to get help, she is let down by authorities and the systems that should be helpful to anyone looking for safety. It’s infuriating, but a necessary reminder of what many people may take for granted. Kyung-mi is also brave and clever — she’s a good match for Do Shik, along with So-Jung’s brother Jong-tak (Park Hoon). The performances in Midnight add a layer of emotion that is sometimes missing from thrillers. In addition to being a fun and suspenseful movie to watch, Midnight is a captivating thriller that really makes you care about the characters.
The Fantasia Film Festival takes place in person and online from August 5 – August 25
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