What to Watch Verdict
'Ten Minutes To Midnight' may have bitten off more than it can chew in terms of narrative scope, as a vampire lock-in rapidly becomes something more thematically dense, conceptually flimsy, and less impactful despite hard-hitting messages.
🎸 Caroline Williams back behind a microphone.
🎸 Horror that isn't afraid to challenge audiences.
🎸 Gets weird in unexpected ways.
🎸 Maybe too weird, albeit.
🎸 Decisions seem to be made at random.
🎸 Passionate, but directionless.
Hard rocker Ten Minutes To Midnight addresses the intimate panic surrounding death with out-of-box zealousness. Erik Bloomquist’s vampire tease doesn't resemble other-vampire-rocker Suck despite similarities in their marketing material, which is a bummer because I enjoy Suck quite a great deal. Instead, Bloomquist uses tattered band t-shirts and familiar bloodsucker mythos to mask the “Trojan Bat” scripted intentions he and co-writer Carson Bloomquist sneak into existence. What starts as a dark and stormy night inside an Anywheresville radio station morphs into this Lynchian blurring of reality that gets odder, less cohesive, and more unwieldy as records spin round ‘n round. No doubt ambitious, almost anarchistic in execution, but ultimately a seventyish-minute experience that feels like a swirling, unfocused purgatory.
Horror royalty Caroline Williams stars as WLST radio host Amy Marlowe, who’s dedicated three decades to her local program “The Minutes To Midnight.” She arrives at the studio in a huff, telling security guard Ernie (Nicholas Tucci) she was bitten by something en route that night. Waiting in station manager Robert’s (William Youmans) office is the sleazy coke head, along with pretty-young-thing Sienna (Nicole Kang). It doesn’t take long for Amy to realize her predicament; out with the old, in with the new. Engineer Aaron (Adam Weppler) begs Amy to bow out gracefully with one last show, but that’s not how a rebellious child of the night bids farewell.
Expectations exist to be challenged, which becomes the game of Ten Minutes To Midnight. Bloomquist pushes experimentation by adopting a kitchen-sink assessment of mortality, workplace misconduct, the expiration of earthly hourglasses, and vampiric thrills that plague human comprehension. The problem becomes, with a runtime closer to the hour mark, existential and angst-driven expressions are lofty sells with such a relatively compact feature duration. Bloomquist bravely morphs perceptions with intent to disarm, disillude, and fabricate a dreamlike sense of fantasy for an otherwise paralyzing unknown anxiety. Death; as inevitable as taxes, yet no knowledge prepares us for whatever happens. Jamming this grand ponderousness in with misogynist bosses, “trigger-warning” sexual harassment, and a laundry list of hybrid genre influences is a disappointing dilution. No subplot granted enough breathing room.
The divisive nature of Ten Minutes To Midnight stems from an in-and-out tonal consciousness. Open on Amy, tending to circular fang wounds on her neck as Ernie sharpens a stake out of wood while slyly spitting lines about rabies infections. Cut to Bob’s lewd “calming” methods when asserting his dominance over Amy, touching her inappropriately as the camera holds, and holds, then holds longer. Next comes Amy’s interaction with an infected coworker that's lacking vampire signatures, followed by Amy answering a red phone in an otherwise blacked-our room for a conversation with herself, then all the actors switch parts for the finale. Same faces, new costumes, Amy’s humble redo, etcetera, etcetera.
It’s an onslaught of stylistic diversions for audiences to parse poetically, and in most cases, creates a pinball effect of ideas that bounce off one-another while crimson lights flicker. Amy’s curse becomes downright Lynchian, as metaphors parallel Amy’s transition into retirement and Amy’s transition into a coffin (her show goes on ten minutes before midnight because she admits, prior, there’ something special about being with listeners when night transitions into day). Bloomquist takes generic midnight frameworks and wills something cerebrally unexpected, either a genius restructuring or zanily awry dependent per viewer.
Performers all have their solos to shine, starting with Williams’ shock-DJ who barks back at patriarchal wolves and puffs an iron maiden’s defensiveness. Nicholas Tucci is permitted the most range given his transformation from quirky-nerdy Ernie to hiking his skirt up as Sienna in Amy’s switcheroo third-act, which he embraces with flirtatious energy (tragically, Tucci passed away last year due to health complications). The remaining actors are stuck within archetypes that run the gamut of pratfalls from jealousy, selfishness, and modern villainy throughout Bloomquist’s bizarro playground. Often lost to rambling monologues that are squeezed into Amy’s timeline, whether that be another backpedaling male, or remembrance of vampire plotlines, or her “sunrise party” sendoff.
Ten Minutes To Midnight is a bit like a Man v. Food race against the clock. Erik Bloomquist presents a seventeen-course menu to be devoured in just over an hour- gastronomists be damned - that may overload (proverbial) weaker stomachs. With a favorable post-festival Rotten Tomatoes percentage, I’d be a fool to claim such a scattershot end-of-life crisis ballad set to squealin’ guitars has no audience. I thought, for sure, I’d be in that crowd, moshing right alongside. Instead, I’m piecing together moments better devoured in bite-sized, separate shorts than conjoined like some super-hybrid subgenre anthology. Indulgence of the mind, body, and soul, should the latter not be sucked from your system before the credits punch one last metalcore sign-off.
Ten Minutes to Midnight will be available to stream January 19th, 2021.
Matt Donato is a Rotten Tomatoes approved film critic who stays up too late typing words for What To Watch, IGN, Paste, Bloody Disgusting, Fangoria and countless other publications. He is a member of Critics Choice and co-hosts a weekly livestream with Perri Nemiroff called the Merri Hour. You probably shouldn't feed him after midnight, just to be safe.