Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Strictly for fans of pulse-pounding, Hitchcockian suspense, Midnight is a South Korean thriller that comes in clutch with fascinating characters, propulsive score, and shocking sequences of stalking and pursuit. It has a signature Asian flair that makes it unique, and certainly allows for ample wiggle room structurally and realistically that Western productions would have a harder time playing convincingly. Sticking to a simple script and concept works in Midnight’s favor, helping to seal the deal on this impressive, fantastic debut feature from writer/director Oh-Seung Kwon.

A cold open thrusts us right into the action, as we witness an unfortunate victim abducted by disarmingly attractive serial killer Do-sik (Wi Ha-Joon from found footage horror Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum). In spite of the wave of Do-sik’s murders that sweep the city, two women set out that night with very different agendas. Kyung-mi (Ki-joo Jin), a young deaf woman who works for “Care With You” as a customer service phone operator by day, readies for travel with her mother (Hae-yeon Kil)—the duo stops near a side street as mother, also deaf, runs in to grab food. Meanwhile, So-jung (Kim Hye-Yoon) readies for a hot date, despite her older brother, Jong Tak (Park Hoon), insisting she dress more appropriately—“go change or die.” Jong Tak wants So-jung home by 10pm, but they compromise instead. She must make a promise to be home by midnight.

A twist of fate causes So-jung to cross paths with Kyung-mi’s mother in a dark alleyway deep into the night. Hooded and masked Do-sik, who had his sights set on Kyung-mi’s mother, shifts gears, charging towards So-jung. When Kyung-mi later discovers a bloodied So-jung, the panicked girl frantically tries to help her before Do-sik rears his head. The two girls become instantly embroiled in Do-Sik’s sinister master plan.

Once this ruthless maniac sets his sights on a target, there is only one way to stand a chance: beat Do-sik at his own twisted game. The cat-and-mouse between Do-sik and his vulnerable, quick-thinking opponent, Kyung-Mi, keeps the audience on their toes. While every single character contributes tense moments and crucial developments, this central conflict between Do-sik and his prey makes for some truly propulsive entertainment. Suspension of disbelief is necessary from time to time (especially in a scene set at the police station), but I was truly buying everything Midnight was selling.

The smart script uses Kyung-Mi and her deafness as a means to further build up Midnight’s strong foundation. Oh-Seung Kwon features immaculate sound design to pepper in an added level of terror. Several times when it switches to a deaf character’s perspective, we experience sound as they do—an added touch that is deeply effective. An earlier scene where Kyung-Mi’s coworkers are rudely discussing her body right in front of her, simply because she cannot hear them, sets up her headstrong attitude right off the bat. Her inability to hear sound is also used as a detriment at a certain point, as it prevents her from being able to communicate effectively or to notice when the killer approaches.

Midnight was a pleasant surprise through the duration, brimming with crowd-pleasing moments of shock and awe. An obvious highlight is an edge-of-your-seat chase through an abandoned parking garage, one which made me exceedingly anxious the longer it went on. Another is an The Shining homage that comes late, but leaves a hell of a mark. Midnight is one satisfying movie that ends in a bang, and establishes its place in the Korean thriller canon.

Midnight sets a curfew when it makes its Canadian premiere at Fantastia International Film Festival 25.

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