12th Oct2020

Grimmfest 2020: ‘Ten Minutes to Midnight’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Caroline Williams, Nicole Kang, Alice Kremelberg, Nicholas Tucci, William Youmans, Adam Weppler, Greg Balla, Martin Sola | Written by Erik Bloomquist, Carson Bloomquist | Directed by Erik Bloomquist

Caroline Williams, who is best known for her role as radio DJ Stretch, the heroine of 1986’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, is back in the DJ booth as Amy Marlowe, a veteran late night radio host on the eve of forced retirement trapped inside the station by a violent storm after being bitten by a rabid bat – in Ten Minutes to Midnight, the second feature film from Erik and Carson Bloomquist, the duo behind the likes of the fantastic shorts The Cobblestone Corridor and She Came From the Woods, and their most recent work, their first feature film, Long Lost. Once again with Carson taking writing duties and Erik directing… And once again the pair do not disappoint.

Crafted like a modern take on a vampire movie, set in the coolest locale possible – with a look that screams 80s horror cinema – Ten Minutes to Midnight is much, MUCH more than a mere vampire film. Yes, we get the traditional “person bit by a vampire” but its never made entirely clear that’s the case. Williams’ character Amy only ever reference being bitten during a storm… Not by what or whom. But we know its a vampire bite, we’ve seen this scenario before; we know what to expect next.

But we don’t get that.

No, instead of heading down the traditional vampire-lore route, Erik and Carson Bloomquist instead take us on an altogether different journey. One that is more concerned with Amy’s state of mind as she approaches forced retirement, replaced by a younger model – in both her job and her relationships with her coworkers (including her sleazy boss) – in new DJ Sienna (Nicole Kang). And the indignity of finding out that she is being replaced that very evening, making this her last night as the host of the titular “Ten Minutes to Midnight” radio show AND having to have Sienna co-host her final show..? Well that drives Amy madder than any bite from a rabid vampire bat could!

The madness escalates quickly, very quickly. As if Amy’s mind has cracked under the realisation that – in her mind – her life is over. No job, no purpose. The madness also escalates into violence as well. Amy bites Sienna, possibly infecting her and turning her into a vampire too. She sees odd behaviour from everyone in the building, leading to more violence and gore. But Amy cannot get out of the building due to hurricane regulations, she cannot escape. And she cannot escape her fate either. Not the fate of possibly being a vampire; but the fate of being dumped by the wayside, being cut from a job she loves, of being old…

And that’s where Ten Minutes to Midnight flips the script so to speak. This “vampire movie” turns into a Lynchian trip through Amy’s mind – complete with gender-swapped characters and a bizarre leaving party-come-funeral – as she ponders what she done with her life. Seeing parallels with her start as a DJ with that of Sienna’s; with something of a #metoo moment when she realises her boss used her and abused her, mentally if not physically (the film shows their relationship blurs the lines between boss and employee). Amy is essentially driven into a paranoiac madness through the self-realisation that her life, as she knows it, is over. With no future and only a past to dwell on.

However when that plot thread, that story trope is married with the strong, impassioned performance of Caroline Williams – an actress whose years in acting reflects that of her characters years as a DJ – you can’t help but think Amy IS Caroline, Caroline IS Amy; the lines between performance and truth blurring as much as Amy’s mental state blurs her perception of reality and insanity. Kudos to Williams for really throwing herself into the role, she’s honestly never been better – bringing a real sense of dignity to a character who’s being treated with anything but. Her outbursts truly terrifying but her quiet moments really hitting home, giving Ten Minutes to Midnight a much more emotional centre than you’d ever expect from a mere “vampire movie”.

But then Ten Minutes to Midnight is not a mere vampire movie, its a diatribe on the modern human condition – the notion that we live to work and our lives are over when there’s nothing left for us to give our jobs. That the old are to be replaced and thrown aside like broken furniture. And the sheer terror of growing old…

***** 5/5

Ten Minutes to Midnight screened on Sunday October 9th, as part of this years Grimmfest virtual festival.

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