Sunday, August 24, 2014

Heart of Midnight

After inheriting a club on a seedy part of the city, a young woman with a difficult past tries to put her life together, but she doesn't realize that this won't be exactly easy due to the past and the relative that left the place to her.

****½



Certain films leave an impression that doesn't just take a hike after they're over. I decided to catch up on a film that was like that, not an easy film because of its plot and what has happened to the characters in it. I decided to re-visit the VHS copy of a film called Heart of Midnight. I remember watching Heart of Midnight (1988) several years ago late one night on cable. The time was right around midnight I reckon after getting home from working the night shift. I think the time was just right for a film of this type as it deals with the kind of unsavory, perverse characters that frequent sex clubs with specific appetites not every sort of establishment would cater to; midnight seems ideal for a club called Midnight and a movie about people frequenting it would be the usual sorts wanting to release their pent-up deviance in a place welcome to them. This isn’t just an “S&M” bar that often comes under scrutiny regarding sexual preference, but the use of a child and content dealing with pedophilia certainly speak volumes regarding how repulsive Uncle Fletcher’s club descends to. The unpleasantness and off-putting nature of the subject matter (while we are introduced to the club Midnight after its owner has died, with Jennifer Jason Leigh inheriting it, the past events that took place in it are alive to haunt her) is awakened to us as the lead, Jennifer Jason Leigh arrives at the club, hoping to renovate it in a classier fashion. She is still contending with mental issues involving multiple nervous breakdowns, inabilities to function in relationships with men (she nearly clawed a man’s eyeball out when he attempts to make out with her), falling prey to nightmares and possible delusions (does she actually hear noises about in the big building?) while staying in the club. Rooms that are locked soon open to reveal specific variations of kink that Fletcher’s clientèle desired. VHS tapes were kept by Fletcher documenting the deviancy recorded for future enjoyment and a child (later learned to be a girl, “decorated” as a boy) was his “partner”, used often as an active participant in degrees of sexual (and later determined, murderous) behavior. The film builds on this throughout.













The story is about secrets. Jennifer Jason Leigh has a secret that reveals itself to her surprise and explains a great deal about why she’s such an emotional mess. Peter Coyote shows up as “Detective Sharpe” but there’s an air of uncertainty and mystery about him that seems to indicate he’s far more than appears. Like the “boy” that was disgustingly used by Fletcher from an early age as a “plaything” and confused into a psychotic, the development of Coyote is also revealed pieces at a time. Coyote was an “acquaintance” of Fletcher’s, knowing a lot about his sexual proclivities and activities, and seems to be on the prowl for something in the club and its number of rooms…or someone. He’s also frank about his attraction and interest in Leigh, although she herself is wrought with self-loathing and is unable to understand why he would be. The intrusion of three scumbags in the area, arriving inside the club to rape her (including a young Steve Buscemi) leads to Leigh meeting an abuse counselor she confides in and a police (lead by sarcastic asshole Frank Stallone who does a hilarious impersonation of Elvis at one point) that thinks she’s a psycho freak with delusions of grandeur (an officer kills one of the crooks as he flees the club, is suspended as Internal Affairs investigates, and there’s a belief among the cops that Leigh was asking for sex considering the locale she currently lives). There’s even a creepy use of apples that symbolize kiddie molestation that is significantly unsettling (the level of unease is palpable as the sex rooms and videotapes show us a lot in regards to Fletcher’s misbehavior) in the memories of Leigh, showing up in the club, and even a single one tossed at Leigh and the counselor when investigating the attic. If the film has a flaw is that there seems to be a suggestion that Fletcher’s paranormal presence is alive in the building as a medicine cabinet, doors, and such open on their own. Keys that unlock the doors to the sex rooms just appear at her bedroom entrance one morning, quick “flashes” of a possible intruder catch the corner of Leigh’s eye, and televisions are often on (also there’s a moment where a wine glass is missing she left after hearing a noise, returning to only find a liquid ring where it once stood) when she awakens or walks into one of the rooms. Many critiqued negatively the decision by the director to include the mysterious noises, tinker with the notion that things could all be a figment of Leigh’s troubled mind, and the insistence in emerging us in the ugly history of Fletcher, but I thought, thanks to the score by Yanni, and assured direction that milks the location’s atmosphere almost exclusively (we rarely leave the building throughout the film), Midnight cast a spell on me that I couldn’t shake. I thought Leigh was simply magnificent in the lead. I think she became an expert actress at evoking fractured individuals holding on for dear life to a fragment of their sanity; those with neurosis and wounded characters Leigh can deftly materialize into authentic human beings on screen. I found her infinitely believable and compelling in Midnight, while I have always felt Coyote was exceptional at parts that depended on a presence, face, and performance which say one thing but could be hiding something else entirely. He isn’t easy to peg in this film. You want to believe he is who he claims, yet so much about him seems to say otherwise. A charm is there and the right words often seduce Leigh into trusting him. Like when his character talks about raising his kid sister after his parents died, learning to cook, and infusing Leigh with a reason to hope for better things in the future. Coyote and Leigh have good chemistry. Both come from uneasy pasts that have scarred them. Ultimately, Coyote comes clean and Leigh is left in bitter anger towards him. The third character important to the film is hinted at and introduced late in the story but is absolutely crucial to how the ending plays out, and the power of the climax hinges on what Fletcher did to both him/her and Leigh as children. Neither was able to escape whole out of the wake of sicko Fletcher, and this film evidently explores what pedo-behavior does to kids when entering adult-hood.

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