A low-fi sci-fi secret unfolds in Midnight Special when a boy with vexing supernatural powers becomes the target of both government officials and a group of religious zealots. Jaeden Lieberher (Masters of Sex) plays Alton, a child whose mysterious energy makes him suffer in pain, and can cause objects to rain down from sky, as seen in this exclusive scene above. Alton’s father (Michael Shannon) is desperate to help, racing against time to evade foes, including Adam Driver as an NSA agent, to get his son to an undisclosed destination. With the help of his mother (Kirsten Dunst) and a new friend (Joel Edgerton), the group takes direction from Alton’s unexplained visions.
“There’s this bigger, general idea of sci-fi government chase movies,” says writer-director Jeff Nichols (Mud, Take Shelter), who was inspired by such films as Starman, E.T., and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. “There’s a look to those films that I really love,” he tells Yahoo Movies. “The blue lens flares, the inky blacks.” In Midnight Special, Nichols only reveals fragments of his mystery, leaving audiences guessing until the very end. “It comes from that feeling, that sense that I got of watching those movies as a kid. That’s the kind of movie I wanted to make — that was mysterious and unfolded and took me to some new place.”
Driver (left) and Edgerton in ‘Midnight Special’ (above) and their ‘Star Wars’ characters (below)
To mention another movie with the word “star” in it, Midnight Special features two Star Wars actors: Driver, who (of course) plays Kylo Ren in The Force Awakens, and Edgerton, who played a young Owen Lars in the prequels. “Oddly enough, Adam Driver’s first day on set was the day it was announced he was going to be in Star Wars,” Nichols recalls. “It was frickin’ hilarious [laughing] because Joel walks up to him and goes, ‘Now, I was in a Star Wars movie.’ … We all knew that day that, holy sh–, that guy’s life is gonna change forever.”
Much of Special is a chase movie, and most of Driver’s scenes were filmed separately from the rest of the principal cast. Driver, Edgerton, Dunst, Lieberher, and Shannon — Nichols’ frequent collaborator who also starred in Take Shelter — share only one scene where they’re all together. Strangely, it got the director feeling slightly self-conscious. “I’d be over on Adam’s first day joking around with him and I’d walk over to Mike [Shannon] and he’d be looking at me — and I would feel like I was somehow cheating on Mike,” he says with a laugh.
Watch the trailer for 'Midnight Special’:
Lieberher’s character wears blue goggles to weaken the supernatural light emitted from his eyes. But the goggles come off at certain times, showing the full effect of his ocular transmissions. The light was no CGI effect, explains Nichols, who placed bright LED bulbs on a pair of specially made goggles worn by the young actor. They ran off a 9-volt battery that was strung along his back. “When he would look down the barrel of the lens it would fire this light that would create lens flares,” says the director. “Ninety percent of the lens flares in the film are emitted from this light and are natural… I approach effects the same way as location scouting and wardrobe — I try make them as practical as possible.”
The light-radiating goggles didn’t present problems for the young actor, says Nichols, but they did temporarily blind the actors who looked into them. Oddly, it helped their performances. “In a moviemaking world where it’s, like, 'hey, stare at this green dot’ — and that’s supposed to be, like, an alien spaceship — I actually provided some real world things for the actors to interact with.”
Midnight Special, which also features Sam Shepard, premieres at the Berlin Film Festival on Feb. 12 and opens wide on March 18.
(Photo: Warner Bros./Lucasfilm/Disney)