Just get through the night.
It’s pretty straightforward initially. A storm brews outside as Amy Marlowe (Caroline Williams) heads into the studio for the late-night radio show she’s hosted for three decades. She’s cutting it close, though, as the chaotic weather knocked down a utility pole and forced her to walk the rest of the way. While that wouldn’t normally be a problem, “normal” is thrown out the window once something swoops down to bite her on the neck. Now she’s bleeding. Station security guard Ernie (Nicholas Tucci) is talking about rabies. And the boss (William Youmans‘ Robert) is requesting an appearance in his office. Add a young potential replacement (Nicole Kang‘s Sienna) and a producer (Adam Weppler‘s Aaron) waxing nostalgic like this is goodbye and you can’t blame Amy for freaking out.
But while Erik Bloomquist‘s Ten Minutes to Midnight (co-written with Carson Bloomquist) appears to follow that straightforward B-movie trajectory until Amy’s rage has her biting someone else, the tone abruptly shifts afterwards. The hammy humor and gore factor are still dialed up, but its horror façade dissolves in order for introspective drama to color everything we’ve already seen a bit differently. Suddenly the anger felt upon getting blindsided by her forced retirement seems superficial. Layers are being peeled away as reality, dream, and hallucination merge to create a psychological filter guiding us from the literal to the figurative. What if the events on-screen are nothing but Amy processing the end of her career? What if the carnage is her mind coping with the uncertainty that awaits?
It’s the type of about-face that can surprise you when sitting down for a low-budget creature feature billed as a DJ wreaking havoc on her coworkers while transforming into a vampire. That premise sets us up for a shallow romp—not the more emotional reckoning that rises in its place. Bloomquist may work against himself when delivering a conclusion that threatens to erase the three-dimensionality he cultivated, but where things end up doesn’t dismiss the fact that the road there was full of resonant feelings of inadequacy, regret, and loss of identity. Those themes swirl around throughout before culminating in a quiet sequence pitting Williams’ Amy opposite a caller that could very well be her younger self. This is where she discovers if the “how” outweighs the “why.”
Reconciling those two isn’t easy in the best of times, but being a woman in a male-dominated industry with a boss who loves for his employees to sleep their way to the top charges things even more. Sienna therefore moves beyond “replacement” to reductively be thought of as a “better” version. The years Amy toiled in this timeslot prove to be the difference between compromising oneself and having the ability to stand one’s ground and take control. All the great work she did talking to callers and being a voice for the voiceless after midnight is forgotten in lieu of this feeling of betrayal. Aaron tries to remind her who she is regardless of her fate, but it’s tough to listen when he too let her down.
The night turns into a nightmarish descent through memory, anxiety, and futility as the bite on Amy’s neck fractures her grasp on the here and now. We witness a flashback of one of her first days on the job, watch Sienna become a decrepit mirror of insufficiency, and enjoy a hard restart of jumbled vision and hindsight leading to the inevitable pasture. Years overlap, time rewinds, and fear projects onto those she cares about while solar flares interrupt radio signals and Amy’s mental faculties en route to a metaphorical, living wake with blood-red cake, trinkets from her past, and the pain of letting go. There’s a lot more than meets the eye. Some of it can’t help getting lost beneath the artifice, but it’s still there.
That Ten Minutes to Midnight can work on those two levels—one of schlocky thrills and another mining the psychology of its lead—is a positive even if that duality has a tendency of harming the latter while augmenting the former. Bloomquist is giving us more than we bargain for, but I wonder if that truth also reveals how much more he could have given if Amy’s self-examination was excised from the aesthetic device. Doing so would mean talking about how some of the fun got lost instead, though, since the whole would become a completely different beast. So rather than wonder about what could have been here, I’ll wonder about what might come next. Hopefully this film becomes a stepping-stone forward to a story free from expectations.
courtesy of 1091 Pictures