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Midnight Special - BBC2

A dad goes on the run with his young son
(Image credit: © 2016 Warner Bros. Ent. Inc. A)

A strange but rewarding sci-fi thriller. 4/5 stars

Writer-director Jeff Nichols takes compass readings from 1970s-80s era Steven Spielberg and John Carpenter, as well as from more recent low-budget sci-fi movies, but the course he charts is all his own, from intriguingly enigmatic opening to mind-blowing close.

The journey starts with a father (Michael Shannon) snatching his young son (Jaeden Lieberher) from a fundamentalist cult that regards the boy as its prophet.

Aided by Shannon’s doggedly loyal friend (Joel Edgerton), the pair take urgent flight down the backroads of Texas, pursued both by the cult and by the FBI, who have taken an interest in the strange powers the boy appears to possess.

Also caught up in the chase are the boys’s mother (Kirsten Dunst) and a sympathetic NSA analyst (Adam Driver), who has considerably more insight into the odd goings on. And things do get very weird.

What grounds the movie - and makes it so involving and gripping - is the fervent bond between father and son, as well as the vivid acting.

The metaphysical flights the story takes towards the end may prove a strain for some viewers, but even the most sceptic will find Shannon and his co-stars so emotionally credible that they will want to go the distance with them.

A film critic for over 25 years, Jason admits the job can occasionally be glamorous – sitting on a film festival jury in Portugal; hanging out with Baz Luhrmann at the Chateau Marmont; chatting with Sigourney Weaver about The Archers – but he mostly spends his time in darkened rooms watching films. He’s also written theatre and opera reviews, two guide books on Rome, and competed in a race for Yachting World, whose great wheeze it was to send a seasick film critic to write about his time on the ocean waves. But Jason is happiest on dry land with a classic screwball comedy or Hitchcock thriller.