Great films to watch at Midnight: this is different from the popular term given to b-list cult films, ‘Midnight-Movies’, like The Room, Eraser Head, and Pink Flamingos. This is for the films that thrive on the romanticised, abstract, vibe that Midnight reverberates; that time when it’s not quite today but it’s not quite tomorrow, when you’re too sleepy to do anything but too awake to sleep.
This is a list for those many, fun, scary, whimsical, and downright bizarre films that in some way capture the spirit of this superstitious period, be it in its mood, style, or story. Some of these are different, some are similar; it’s a likeness hard to quantify but unmistakable to see.
These are in no particular order.
1. Eyes Wide Shut
The last completed film from everyone’s favourite cinematic mad man Stanley Kubrick, his last hurrah is one of his most diverse and challenging. A melodic mystery drama that spirals round the failing marriage of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, as after an eye opening fight Cruise exiles himself to a night long odyssey of sexual discovery and moral depravity, in a childish attempt to get back at and understand his wife’s disaffection with him.
From there it evolves into a complex and hypnotic mystery that dives into a fear raddled mind as Cruise’s subconscious drips into his reality, in a fascinating dream like exploration of the hard truths of love, commitment, and lust; as the many dark places he ventures don’t want to be found.
The film swims in Kubrick’s signature style of long meticulously crafted shots and sequences, but is undeniably more foreboding and dreamlike than a lot of his other work, filled to bursting with surreal settings and situations, hazy lights and blurred details, dark shadows and scary figures; scenes the film glides between with the nature of slipping in and out of a nightmare.
That combined with its bizarre but genius marriage of a complex romantic drama told like a psychological horror/thriller, makes it an ideal midnight watch; when the air is as thick and mysterious as the film’s world and its character’s intentions. But at a near three hours, be ready to cuddle down for a heavily paced but enthralling look at love in all its glory and shame, that’ll leave you second guessing your partner.
2. Let the Right One In
The first of a few horror films on this list and like the rest of them, this is a horror that focuses more on building unique atmosphere and characters than in-your-face scares; suited for the misty hours of not-tomorrow, opting to let the terror ebb gradually as we get invested in the lives and world of its troubled cast.
Though undeniably a horror, the story progresses like a genuinely sweet coming of age romance, just with slasher movie excerpts; following a young bullied outcast called Oskar as he forges a life changing friendship cum romance with his new neighbour Eli, who he discovers is a vampire.
The film is shot beautifully by Hoyte van Hoytema, crafting the snowy Swedish suburbia into a dreamy fairy tale, full of as much wonder as danger that connects with the film’s sleepy pace perfectly. Allowing the audience to slip into the story like wading into a cool pool, unaware that they are like a frog in a beaker; gradually being boiled ‘til the gruesome terror rears its head and it’s too late to do anything but watch on.
But the real charm of the film comes from it being just as brutally honest in its depiction of troubled adolescent romance as it is in its shocking bursts of horror and gore as Eli hunts and feeds; and it’s a unique wonder to see the two sides bleed into eachother, as metaphors collapse, and the gut wrenching horror and sweet beauty merge into something wholly different and unforgettable.
3. Waking Life
Want to know what it feels and looks like to be on hallucinogenic drugs, but don’t have the stones or connections to do so? Then here’s the film for you. Theoretically set inside our protagonist’s (never named) dreaming subconscious that he is unable to wake from; Waking Life is an animated trip through the mind, touching upon many philosophical issues ranging from, the nature of reality vs dreams, consciousness, the meaning of life, free will, and existentialism.
It is without a doubt Richard Linklater’s most experimental film to date. Now this is one of the harder watches on the list, as after a nice tone setting first few minutes you are bombarded with a further twenty minutes of docufiction interviews sprawling with dozens of complex philosophical questions and theories.
As visually trippy as it gets, it is still rather dry, but it’s a desert worth trekking through to lay the ground work for when the protagonist becomes more self-aware, and the existential sermons become conversations, as he meets more chilled-out but fascinating characters worth talking to.
It’s an odd but fitting choice for Midnight viewing, as if you’re too sleepy too much of the thought will be lost to you, but if you’re too awake the atmosphere won’t gel, but if you can ‘find’ that lucid space between awake and asleep Waking Life is an experience well worth the trip.
4. Donnie Darko
A melancholy coming of age sci-fi/supernatural drama that doesn’t care if you know what’s happening or not and just expects you to lay back and bathe in its forebodingly chilled atmosphere and pseudoscience…it’s no shock this became a fast cult classic…or that it found a place on this list. As I said the defining quality of a film that makes it midnight worthy is vague but undeniable, and Donnie Darko is certainly undeniable.
Time tavel and teen angst: this surreal melodrama follows the titular Donnie (a star making Jake Gyllenhaal), as he traverses his troubled adolescence, finds love, and faces his own mortality; all while guided by a transdimensional creeper in a bunny suit he discusses philosophy with, and as the universe as he knows it slowly implodes.
The moody and stylish blending of end of the world science fiction and end of the world teen drama makes for an intellectual yet emotional parallel; but it’s the Lynchian, waking-dream, imagery and pacing that makes this a perfect midnight meander.
As your mind loops and bends round the paradoxical plot and warped characters- a Mobius strip of personal story, scientific theory, and disturbed psychology that’s crescendo may (for first time watchers ‘will’) leave you intellectually swirling in confusion, but still completely emotionally satisfied. It’s an ideal film to wear your brain into a tired haze ready for sleep and reanalysis in the morning, while still leaving the rest of you content for slumber.
5. My Neighbor Totoro
Another way to look at this list is, films to fall asleep to, now this isn’t completely accurate as I intend this to be films to watch just before sleep takes you into her warm embrace; but with that view in mind Studio Ghibli’s iconic hallmark is a perfect bedtime story. A fantastical breezy tale of two young sisters, as they grow accustomed to their new home in the Japanese country side, and make friends with the strange creatures who exist in the forest behind their house; including the master of fuzz himself, Totaro.
This is a very easy film to watch. Its plot is minimal, its characters charming and real, and it’s happy to take its time and mull around with you as you get gradually nudged into this world that is so close to home you won’t believe how magical it is.
Now while Totoro and his fantastical friends are the things people seem to remember best, the heart of the film is undeniably the youngest sister, Mei. Rarely has a child been depicted so earnestly without coming across as a brat, and rarely does a child feel like such a character.
As ample time is spent with the adorable Mei just being herself, and it’s in the early scenes of her simply playing round her garden that start to bring you into this magical world, even before the magic shows up. Because Totoro is a simple film of children being children, and how they see the bright and dark, happy and sad world around them; and that’s really what this laidback movie is inviting you to – get lost in the carefree magic of childhood.
6. Apocalypse Now
You’ll have to be in it for the long haul with this one. To some Francis Ford Coppola’s magnum opus; a grandiose near three hour odyssey through space, ourselves, and the many hells and evil heavens of the Vietnam War. Though filled with action and thrills, this is a surprisingly chilled out, dreamy, cinematic mile stone; that enjoys the time it takes to tell its story, far more interested on fleshing-out its war torn setting as if it was a Fantasy realm amidst a sea of lore.
We spend most of the film occupying the head space of Captain Willard, played by a unnerving Martin Sheen, as he sails through Cambodia with his put upon motley crew of burnt out soldiers, pondering upon the many moral shades of life, death, and murder on his way to assassinate a crazed colonel, played by an even crazier Marlon Brando.
Now what makes this an appt addition to this midnight movies club is similar to a lot of films on this list- its dream like atmosphere. But like every film on this list, every dream is different. This dream has a little bit of everything, being far more diverse in mood than any other; it’ll excite you, it’ll relax you, it’ll scare you, it’ll make you laugh, and it will give and take away your hope.
It’s a journey to the centre of broken men and their darkest hearts, and watching it is like walking across a road of tar- the further you go the deep you sink, till at the last moment you’re either saved or submerged…depending on how yourself at midnight (closer to three by the end) sees it.