By SHAWN MACOMBER
Starring Caroline Williams, Nicole Kang and William Youmans
Directed by Erik Bloomquist
Written by Erik Bloomquist and Carson Bloomquist
Though its influence now wanes in our digitized dystopia, it is difficult to imagine a cultural cornerstone more awash in strange and powerful alchemies than the terrestrial radio station. In these often small, deceptively unassuming buildings, the murmurs and exhortations of DJs—sorcerers?—are captured, transmogrified into electromagnetic radiation, and—along with the songs that stir your soul or heal your heart or drive you to endure and triumph—are shot out at the speed of light to be reconstituted and accessed by any dial-twiddling seeker in range. Or, as NASA prefers, an antenna-transmitter combo allows one to “send energy into space and a receiver to pick up energy from space.”
Imagine, however, the potential consequences if that energy circled back from another dimension—not heaven or hell, necessarily, but a realm where the ordinary rules are obliterated, alternate realities are as accessible as frequencies on a radio dial, fears and sorrow and rage are made manifest and terrifying monsters prowl. Such is the premise behind director/co-writer Erik Bloomquist’s wildly imaginative, highly affecting TEN MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT, a mind-bending, richly realized follow-up to his excellent 2018 psychosexual thriller LONG LOST. Currently prowling the festival circuit, it deftly interweaves Lynchian surrealism, Serling-esque supernatural humanism and a circa CREEPSHOW/MONKEY SHINES Romero gonzo vibe into one intense tapestry.
For aging punk-rock DJ Amy Marlowe (Caroline Williams), the hits just keep on coming. First, her lecherous boss (William Youmans) is forcing her out of “Ten Minutes to Midnight”—the edgy rock ’n’ advice radio show she’s hosted for 30 years—with a precocious young upstart named Sienna (Nicole Kang) hot on her heels. She’s got a bat bite on her neck that looks suspiciously Stoker-ish and is necrotizing fast. A hurricane has the whole fractious gang sheltering in place, and solar flares on top of it all just seems like some crazy cosmic joke. Are those visions of the past and scrambled present realities merely hallucinations brought on by Amy’s attempts to rage, rage, rage (and broadcast, broadcast, broadcast) against the dying of the light? Or has her righteous fury and a vampiric bite converged to open a hellmouth under WLST? Whatever the case, teeth will gnash, blood will flow, psyches and bodies alike will be tested in extreme ways and your conception of the invisible scaffolding giving form and purpose to human existence will, like the characters’, be shaken to its very foundations.
As Sienna might say, NBD.
On a surface level, TEN MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT is a very different film form LONG LOST. The latter was much closer to one of those delightful slow-burning 1980s TWILIGHT ZONE episodes than the fangs-and-viscera approach here. Dig a little deeper, however, and MIDNIGHT shares a searching spirit, an adventurousness, an understanding that fun, fantastical storytelling can help us pull back the veil a bit more on the human condition and our ongoing—if halting—evolution. Kudos to Bloomquist and his co-scripter/brother Carson for going to the edge—and then taking two steps further. The fantastic cast here plays a major role in actualizing that vision: Williams—returning to the cinematic radio booth for the first time since her turn as DJ Vanita “Stretch” Brock in THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 (1986)—gives perhaps the best performance of her long and storied genre career, imbuing Marlowe with real authenticity and pathos. She is by turns vulnerable and terrifying, inspiring and brutal. Kang really could not be better as a Millennial who has mastered the art of exuding pure sweetness while twisting the knife—and when she goes sinister, she goes 100 believable sinister. Youmans is appropriately sleazy and LONG LOST stars Adam Weppler and the late, great Nicholas Tucci (YOU’RE NEXT, MOST BEAUTIFUL ISLAND) are on board with memorable and entertaining turns as a producer and security guard, respectively.
Audacious and thought-provoking, TEN MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT feels a bit like accidentally tuning into the future of indie horror cinema. If this is the standard the Bloomquist brothers hope to set, may they and their company of collaborators continue to beam their electromagnetic radiation at our collective hypothalamus antennae for a long, long time to come. Lord knows, we could use smarter stimulation.