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After Midnight On Shudder- The Perfect Valentine’s Horror Movie

After Midnight is a love story about the death of dreams and love and what happens when it turns into a monster that comes knocking at your door.

Rarely do movies surprise me. It’s rarer still to not only be surprised but laugh out loud at the audacity of the prestige. Such is the case with After Midnight from Jeremy Gardner and Christine Stella, who brought the superbly quirky The Battery. Part Rom-Com, part relationship drama about thirty-somethings in crisis, and part creature film, After Midnight refuses to conform and that individuality makes it great.

Hank(Jeremy Gardner) has a problem. Two actually. His girlfriend of ten years, Abby(Brea Grant), has taken off with only a brief note. Through carefully curated flashbacks, we witness their start as a couple and their arrival at the charming but none the less dilapidated old farmhouse that has been in his family for generations. As the sequences play out over years, smiles slip, and gentle looks become haunted stares. Abby left for a reason. In Abby’s absence, there is a creature who snarls and claws at the door each night.

The longer Abby stays away, the more paranoid and dangerous Hank becomes. Her brother, town Sherrif played by Justin Benson of the team Benson and Moorehead, who brought us The Endless and last year’s Synchronic, is a condescending turd who would rather patronize Hank than offer any real help. By the time Abby comes home, the film has already asked the pertinent questions about the beast and is intentionally deceiving us. Fooled into a false sense of calm, the finale is shocking and endearingly funny.

Stella’s camera work promises one thing and delivers something even better. Southern gothic horror, nightmares in the dark, and paranoid character studies flit on and off camera with the nimbleness of a hummingbird. Early on, the titular beast is only seen through holes in doors and quick catches of light. You don’t see the entire creature until the very end, and it is worth the wait. The cinematography from Stella gives sweeping vistas of a sun-soaked and sweaty Florida existence. Bacon, booze, and lackadaisical regrets are woven into the fabric of this singular movie. You can feel the sunshine and smell the mat juice.

The majority of the film plays out like a character study on stagnant relationships and ignored desires. The sunny dream-like quality that exists through most of the hazy flashbacks reminds the viewer that this relationship was good once. There was hope and love here earlier, even if it has been worn down by time and regret. An extended single take is a captivating look at the ties that bind in good ways and bad. Hank and Abby are at a crossroads between acceptance and a brutal breakup. Blood will be shed figuratively or literally before the end of the film.

Little beats of intense violence highlighted by periods of unsettling remorse and even more disturbing rage make the viewer question everything they see. The monster seen only in brief glimpses through most of the film could be anything and sounds like a massive wild boar. Maybe Hank is just losing his mind. Too much time alone and too many failures caused him to break with reality. The final scene brings everything into focus in one climactic jump scare and a gloriously violent scene that is highly satisfying and jarringly poignant. If romantic horror wasn’t a thing before, it is now.

Grant’s Abby is conceptually natural and nuanced in performance. She has been a horror icon and genre darling for years now, for a good reason. There is nothing contrived about her performances. Even when sharing space with a technicolor beastie, she is believable and just a little goofy. The ideal combination of incredulous, sympathetic, and hopeless, she is the glue that holds everything together. With just a subtle glance and forced smile, every warring emotion can be seen. This relationship has been bad for a while. One feels trapped, and the other has just gotten lazy.

In the final act, Abby says, “I don’t think your monsters coming.” The monster isn’t coming because it is already there. Hank has been neglectful, and Abby has settled for less, and that’s a dark truth they have to face together or move apart. This mash-up of the casualty of a relationship mixed with a genuine monster flick shouldn’t work and, in lesser hands, wouldn’t. Still, Grant and Gardner bring such earnest realism to their relationship you can’t help but ache for them, right up until the point that the monster starts to growl again like some oversized pig squealing into the darkness.

After Midnight is surprisingly heartfelt, uniquely themed, and inexplicably scary as hell in between the mournful memories and tear-soaked songs. There isn’t a better movie to watch for Valentine’s date night, especially if you are celebrating with someone you love. For God’s sake, Gardner provides a karaoke version of Lisa Loeb’s Stay in the final act that is so sincere you swoon, right before you gasp.

Love isn’t perfect, and often we forget what made it so special. Complacency makes us selfish and time dulls the senses until we lose track of the us within the you and me. After Midnight perfectly captures that emotional battleground while delivering on a monster movie premise. It is easily one of the most watchable, enjoyable movies in years. It’s a Shudder exclusive that is out today. Grab a bottle of wine and call your love home. Stream it tonight. Just make sure you call the pets inside first.