For those that like their science fiction quiet and serious, here's a very decent sci-fi thriller from Mud director Jeff Nichols. A Hollywood sci-fi that feels like an indie film, with an intimate sensibility, quality performances, a very good child actor, and several striking visual moments. The story explores faith, religious cult-dom, parenthood, and the cost of doing what's right. There are sci-fi elements of ET, Close Encounters, Akira and even Looper, but in fairness that's just grasping for similarities; it's very much its own thing. For some, that overall sense of refreshment will be enough.
I can't fault it, but I only wish I'd enjoyed it more. The tone is serious to the point of being grim, with sympathetic yet deathly dour characters. Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton and Kirsten Dunst are all excellent in their roles (Shannon in particular). But there's no room for warmth or levity as they go on the run, both from the FBI and from the ambiguous religious sect to which they used to belong. Both parties have a vested interest in Shannon's young son Alton; ostensibly 'kidnapped' from his adopted father (and also cult leader), who exhibits some strange supernatural abilities. Adam Driver adds gentle warmth and humanity as an FBI psychologist; and as mentioned child actor Jaeden Lieberher is very capable as Alton. Unfortunately Midnight Special leaves lots of unanswered questions and keeps viewers guessing for too long without explanation, which is frustrating. We don't want to be spoon-fed, but there's a difference between inviting speculation and simply leaving viewers (no pun intended) in the dark. The slow-burn and downbeat ending are offset by a visually interesting and uplifting resolution to one character's arc, but ultimately it makes for a sober experience that might not be a fun time at the cinema for everyone.
I have to say I preferred the more gripping 10 Cloverfield Lane, which also adds mystery and builds tension, but rewards your patience with genuine shocks and thrills. That said; to have both films in an era perceived to lack originality is great, and proves that Hollywood sci-fi is still capable of delivering thoughtful, original fare.