INTO THE DARK
Season 2, Episode 4: Midnight Kiss
Starring: Scott Evans, Adam Faison, Lukas Gage, Ayden Mayeri, Augustus Prew, Chester Lockhart, Will Westwater
Director: Carter Smith
Writer: Erlingur Thoroddsen
Production Company: Blumhouse Television
Into the Dark‘s fourth movie of the season heralds the new year and new decade! Last year’s episode, New Year, New You, was a very good entry. Recall that it told the story of four childhood friends who were gathering for New Year’s Eve one last time in their traditional gathering home. It was a good movie that slowly developed over the first two-thirds of the runtime to then give way to one hell of a crazy third act. Plus, Suki Waterhouse gave a great performance. Given that it dealt with New Year’s Eve, a lesser-used holiday as the setting for horror movies, it was a fun movie. Would this second time around be as good?
Midnight Kiss tells the story of several friends who gather every New Year’s Eve to celebrate. But something is different this year, starting with the little inviting yet cryptic messages delivered to each attendee about the upcoming celebration. Nobody worries, though, believing them to be from Joel (Scott Evans). But what is supposed to be another annual fun party turns out to be the opposite. Somebody, who is unknown to the movie characters and the viewers, starts to kill our friends. Though it is a horror movie, it was this whodunit part that really got me intrigued.
The actual story is quite simple. Friends get together in one location, albeit not a remote one, to celebrate New Year’s Eve. A masked killer stalks them and begins to kill them, or at least tries to. The director conveniently separates the members of the group each time the masked killer appears, so the possibility of it being one of them exists. Then again, it is also possible that someone outside of the group of friends is the culprit. The mystery — the need to listen and watch carefully for clues — drives the story forward with effectiveness. But as in past episodes, this isn’t just a plain attempt at horror. Midnight Kiss tries to have some originality, some uniqueness, and pushes the envelope in its attempt.
The title of the episode, Midnight Kiss, refers not only to the tradition of kissing someone at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, but also to a game our cast of friends created. Their history is a sexually-convoluted one, in which the regular exchange of partners has led to broken hearts, jealousy, resentment, and secrets. To avoid any further damage, they created a game. Essentially, rather than be with one another at midnight, they must find a stranger to kiss. Additional rules include things like mutual consent, presumably to reflect the sensitivity of today’s relationship climate. Also, if anything more happens subsequent to the kiss, it is considered fair game but has to end by dawn. Perhaps I’m not as knowledgeable as Dr. Ruth in this area, but given two of the friends are engaged, I can see this becoming one hell of a mess.
The game is bound to generate a lot of jealousy and anger. Imagine your significant other or even someone in your group, for whom you have feelings, having to find a stranger to share that special midnight kiss. Add to that that the possibility the kiss leads to a night of sexual adventures. Finally, being fully cognizant of this, imagine not being allowed to do anything about it. Let that sink in. How this was thought to be a good idea baffles me, whether by the characters, or even the writer. Though the identity of the killer is not known, it took very little deductive effort to realize that the murders had something to do with this game. It felt too contrived, too perfectly packaged, and solely to provide a motive. It’s been done before and lacks originality.
Midnight Kiss does stand out from the other entries with its blatant gay-centric approach. The friends who gather, except for Hannah (Ayden Mayeri), the only girl, are all gay. It’s not subtle or treated as some background information, but rather it is front and center. This is different from the other entries so far, which have stayed away from nudity and being overtly sexual to the extent we see here. But sex and slasher movies have traditionally gone hand in hand, dating back to the slashers of the ’80s. It was a nice touch for Carter Smith to bring that aspect back to the anthology.
The characters are interesting. Logan and Joel, played by Lukas Gage and Scott Evans respectively, are the newly-engaged couple. The tension between the two is almost palpable as Logan takes full advantage of the game, while Joel still harbors feelings for his ex, Cameron (Augustus Prew). Zachary (Chester Lockhart) is the biggest diva and just wants to party. Meanwhile, Dante (Adam Faison) only wants to have fun, going to freaky lengths to get what he wants. Last but not least, Hannah (Ayden Mayeri) has such a spunky, fun attitude; it’s a breath of fresh air when she’s on screen.
Nevertheless, Midnight Kiss isn’t without weaknesses. I’ve mentioned a few so far, and Hannah — despite the fun — beckons the question: what is the point of her character? She does provide some background information about the game and the reasons for its existence. However, it’s nothing that any other character couldn’t have done just as easily. It feels as though her character is present for the sole purpose of being “punished.” As the only straight character, not only does she not have anyone significant in her life but also her lines make it clear that this is a recurring occurrence. Is this a comment by the director about who has the most fun? Or, is it simply a twist on the last girl trope and the not-allowed-to-have-sex rule?
There is suspense, and the subject matter fits the horror genre. However, don’t expect the excessive amount of gore you typically see in a slasher movie. There are kills and there is blood, but it’s restrained, except for a champagne bottle-driven one. As for the ending, this is where it falls apart. It was unoriginal. Though there are very few clues as to the identity of the killer, the revelation is not surprising at all. In fact, the reason given for killing is weak, uninspiring, and frankly, difficult to accept. The movie was pretty good, but that reveal did it no favors.
Director Carter Smith, along with writer Erlingur Thoroddsen, tried to produce an entry that stood out from all the others. And they almost pulled it off with their LGBT focus. They really pushed the envelope and should be commended for that. However, Into the Dark is a horror anthology, and from that perspective, Midnight Kiss is good but not great. Though there is suspense, it’s not scary. Though there are kills, there is no gore. And though it’s a good movie, it’s not one that really stands out as a superior horror entry in this anthology. Here’s hoping that 2020 will give us at least one outstanding episode.