Midnighters is a dark thriller with more twists and turns than the country road on which the film’s protagonists run down a stranger on New Year’s Eve, and make a very bad decision. STACK caught up with director Julius Ramsay to talk about his suspenseful debut feature.
Julius Ramsay always had a desire to be a director. Moving to Los Angeles, he found his way into the industry working as an editor on television series like Alias, Battlestar Galactica and The Walking Dead, making his directorial debut on the twelfth episode of TWD’s fourth season.
“Having a background in editing was a huge help in being able to direct,” he tells STACK. “Knowing exactly what the pieces I needed were before shooting, while shooting, and being able to assemble the footage in my head as I went along.”
On making his feature debut with the twist-laden horror-thriller Midnighters, Ramsay says the experience presented a different set of challenges to working in television.
“Because it was an independent film we were reliant upon ourselves to do all of the work that was necessary – from raising the money and finding locations, to hiring the crew. When you’re working on a television show, most of that stuff is already established. So it’s a more taxing process.”
A collaboration between Ramsay and his screenwriter brother Alston (an erstwhile political speechwriter for former US Secretary of Defence, Robert Gates), Midnighters plunges a young married couple (played by Alex Essoe and Dylan McTee) into a domestic nightmare after they run down a stranger on a deserted country road following a New Year’s Eve party.
“My brother had read an article in the paper about a case that happened a couple of years ago,” says Ramsay. “A woman was driving a car and hit somebody. The person crashed through her windshield and the woman wound up driving home. This man was still alive and she just shut her garage, and over the next two days the guy slowly died. Despite his screaming for help and begging her to call an ambulance, she did nothing.
“This became the germ of an idea about a seemingly normal person who makes a horrible decision by putting their head in the sand after an accident.
We also knew that we wanted to do a film that explored a couple’s relationship and marriage, and how there are these fault lines that exist and might never be exposed, but as a result of this series of events, all come percolating to the surface and break open – in this case over the course of one night.”
A large sum of money is also pivotal to the plot and always a guarantee for bringing out the worst in people, as demonstrated in thrillers like Shallow Grave and A Simple Plan.
“Shallow Grave was very much on our minds when we were making this film,” says Ramsay. “That’s one of my all-time favourite films, and Danny Boyle’s one of my favourite directors.”
Although Midnighters isn’t strictly a horror film, it does include horrific elements, not least a wince-inducing moment involving a hammer and nails. Ramsay prefers to think of it as “a gothic fairytale told through the lens of a horror-thriller.”
“It has a little bit of an out-of-time feel to it,” he adds, “and a quintessential New England setting in that period of time when the leaves have fallen from the trees but the snows haven’t set in yet. I really tried to accentuate that with the colour palette – cool colours, with red to signify the violence that is coming or has just occurred.”