If you’ve taken a stroll through the Young Adult section of your local bookshop recently, you’ll likely have noticed that every single damn book on the shelf is an agonizing teenage romance to feature a perfectly bland young woman, still a virgin and on the cusp of adulthood, who has an incredibly intense and likely passion-free romance with a seductive incubus of some sort. The book will be a part of a series (no monster romance is autonomous these days), and each book in the series will have a different colored binding, so that they form a little mini-rainbow when you line them up on a shelf. They might also have shiny foil stamping. Yes, each one of these hundreds of books is riding on the coattails of Stephanie Meyer. No, you probably shouldn’t read any of them. Whatever happened to the days when YA lit was all about bouncy shallow blonde girls whose only personality trait was that they were twin sisters, and perhaps experiencing their first menstruation without the benefit of a vampire metaphor? Or were, perhaps, all about gimmicks like Choosing Your Own Adventure?
The small-release and straight-to-video indie film worlds are now suffering through a similar fate. If it’s not a film about the zombie apocalypse (a subgenre of film whose numbers have officially surpassed musicals), then it’s going to be an insufferably turgid romance between a teenager and a monster. Heck, in these very same pages of CraveOnline, I once reviewed The Howling Reborn, which featured, um… well nothing new in the teenage/monster romance other than a few Scream-like moments of self-reference. Scott Leberecht has now made Midnight Son, which is clearly being marketed as yet another predictable love story in the long line of Twilight rip-offs. It is indeed about a young vampire boy, this time at the ripe old age of 25, who has a tentative romance with a local hipster gal and has to conceal his blood cravings, but I’m happy to say that this movie has way more personality than anything I saw in Twilight. Indeed, Midnight Son operates on the following conceit: What if one of those sun-fearing, twentysomething, mildly douchey Silverlake hipster brats were just now becoming a vampire? And we filmed it in a natural, hand-held style, and slowed the pace down a little? I would be surprised if the film was merely watchable, and I certainly didn’t expect something so interesting.
Jacob (Zak Kilberg) is indeed a stone-faced twentysomething living in Silverlake, CA. He sleeps in the dark, and is allergic to sunlight. As he approaches his 25th birthday, he finds that he has an increased appetite, mostly for red meats. Over the course of many eating scenes, Jacob quietly discovers that he enjoys the bloody leavings of his steaks, and pretty soon he’s buying cups of cow blood wholesale from his butcher. I guess the butcher never thinks to ask what he’s doing with it. He explains that he’s always had this sunlight allergy, implying that he’s been a vampire since birth, but is only now pupating. He was a vampire before it was cool. Now they’re way too mainstream. He doesn’t speak a lot, and looks like a sleepy-eyed and lanky version of Judge Reinhold. But with some Nicolas Cage in Vampire’s Kiss thrown in for good measure.
Concurrent with his hunger is his romance with another Silverlake hipster named Mary (Maya Parish), a cocaine addict who works in an art gallery during the day and sells candy and cigarettes at Spaceland at night. They don’t talk a lot, these two, and their romance seems a bit mopey, but I imagine that’s de rigueur in hipster towns. The sex comes quick for them (when she comes over to pick him up for a date, clothes are shed readily), but Jacob seems unwilling to consummate; he knows he has a vampire-like disease, and doesn’t want her to know about it. She becomes frustrated with his unwillingness to put out, although she seems to tolerate his mopiness. When the nudity does come (and thank goodness there’s a scene of actual nudity) it’s surprisingly and refreshingly graphic.
An interesting wrinkle: When Jacob finds he needs not just blood, but human blood (Mary got a coke-induced nosebleed on his face, and he loved it), he finds himself sniffing around the dumpster of a hospital. It’s there that he meets Marcus (Jo D. Jonz), a friendly orderly who seems to know what he wants and offers him a bag of blood. But only the first one’s free. Marcus and Jacob enter into an amusing dealer/addict relationship, including drives to dangerous neighborhoods, some gun waving, and a logical scene wherein Jacob, shaking with DTs, offers Marcus a fistful of cash for a fix that is not yet ready.
The ending falls apart, and it becomes more of a typical horror/slasher at that point, abandoning all of the natural style for splatter thrills and monster fights. Up until that point, Midnight Son was watchable and fun. It unfolded in a natural way. The romance was more realistic than such on-screen romances typically are; it wasn’t about cutesiness or insufferable bouts of unquenchable longing. It was two 25-year-old kids who wanted to boink, but were afraid of disease. Seeing as his vampire-ness coincides with his 25th birthday (Tracey Walter appears to explain that’s when the body stops growing and puberty ends), this is a vampire movie that casts monsterism with quarter-life angst. So there’s even a little thought.
For a vampire romance, Midnight Son is actually interesting. And in a world where all vampire romances are lost in the smoky teenage death fantasies of Stephanie Meyer, that’s a huge relief.