Saturday, January 23, 2021

Ten Minutes to Midnight – review

Director: Erik Bloomquist

Release date: 2020

Contains spoilers

A film that did well on the festival circuit (including the UK’s Grimfest 2020), it really does defy expectation. A simple blurb for it would read – disc jokey turning into a vampire has to make it through the night. But it isn’t that, it really isn’t, and it is a disorientating and yet strangely introspective film.

It is also a wonderful vehicle for Caroline Williams who was the main turn in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 as radio DJ Stretch… and in this takes centre stage as a 30-year veteran late-night DJ named Amy Marlowe.

bat bite

Amy is having a bad night, she gets in later than normal for her job due to the hurricane fuelled storm, which took a tree down and made her walk part of the way. On her way in something bit her neck. Security guard Ernie (Nicholas Tucci), who was whittling what appears to be the beginnings of a stake as she comes in, asks if it was the raccoon but on hearing it was flying… maybe a bat… suggests she gets herself to the ER – they carry rabies. Later in the film Ernie will list some of the symptoms of rabies and , whilst in reality they wouldn’t impact that quickly, the symptoms she displays might be rabies – its all part of the disorientating nature of the film.

Sienna and Bob

Ernie tells her that radio boss Robert (William Youmans), "call me Bob", wants to see her and, as she goes in his office she can see him flirting with a young woman, Sienna (Nicole Kang). There is another thread to this, where the film touches on #metoo – with it clear that Robert sexually exploited Amy, in order to get her radio break, that Sienna plays on that (making him think she will when she won't) and him inappropriately touching Amy when she is in trouble. He tells Amy that Sienna is her shadow tonight, that she is her sub… in actual fact he is giving Amy one last show before replacing her. Everyone at the station knows, only Amy is in the dark…


However she is not in the dark too long. Her engineer Aaron (Adam Weppler) certainly lets it slip – though Amy appears not to notice. However when she takes listener calls as the show starts she is uncharacteristically caustic and it ends up as an on air attack on Sienna. The live feed is cut and an argument ensues and, during it, Amy bites Sienna’s hand (leaving two punctures, though we don’t see fangs). She runs to the toilet and vomits but then removes a tampon from the waste bin and sucks the blood from it. She looks in the mirror – but the angle cleverly doesn’t let us see what she sees (or doesn’t).

vampiric activity

From here on in it is a hallucinatory trip, with moments back when she started in the show, Sienna apparently turning too (at first looking rather decayed), Amy self-harming without effect and, in the final act, the actors changing roles so that no character bar Amy is played by whoever played them through the preceding acts – which also involves some gender swapping. I said the film was introspective, and it is, with Williams exploring Amy’s loss and grief at being forced into a retirement and looking back on what it all meant and was it worth a damn. The film explicitly states that it is about transition (be that stages of life, vampirism or any other – Amy's show starts at ten minutes to midnight for that reason, her moving through the transition of one day to another with her listeners). And, of course, we also get vampiric activity including attacks and a staking.

Amy angered

You go into Ten Minutes to Midnight expecting… well I expected vampires, perhaps a shock jock and a fairly run of the mill horror… Instead I got a film that is trippy, introspective, explosive and thought provoking. Most importantly we get a powerhouse performance from Caroline Williams and maybe a dotted line from Stretch to Amy. This one will baffle some, annoy others but for many of us it will become a favourite. 8 out of 10. The imdb page is here.

On Demand @ Amazon US

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