You'd be hard-pressed to find many better indie horror actresses than Caroline Williams and she's absolutely sublime in Erik Bloomquist's 1091 Pictures release Ten Minutes to Midnight, a smart and sinister indie horror flick with pitch dark humor and a moral fiber to boot.
Ten Minutes to Midnight finds Williams back in the DJ booth for the first time since her iconic portrayal of Stretch in 1986's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. It's a welcome return for an actress who can rock your socks off with vulnerability meets psychosis like no other. This time around, she's Amy Marlowe, the the long-time host of a rock n' call-in show called, you guessed it, Ten Minutes to Midnight. She's got a sleazeball boss (William Youmans) determined to push her out in favor of some young blood, Sienna (Nicole Kang) and in the meantime is dealing with a rapidly necrotizing bite and a hurricane that's keeping her wrapped up tight in the studio with her familiar late-night crew.
There are certain places that you expect Ten Minutes to Midnight to go and you'll definitely be correct. However, director Erik Bloomquist has always been a bit more imaginative than most and Ten Minutes to Midnight is both more meaningful and far more imaginative than you might be expecting. While the ending somewhat disappoints mostly owing to weaker supporting players, Ten Minutes to Midnight is for the vast majority of its slight 73-minute running time an 80's homage with hints of #MeToo and otherworldly paranoia.
The film soars on the strength of both Caroline Williams and Nicole Kang, Williams giving a remarkably perceptive and intuitive performance while Kang shows us both sides of the same coin and neither one can ultimately be trusted. They're a blast together, well, unless you're trapped together in the same studio by a hurricane.
That would kind of suck.
The film also benefits from the late great Nicholas Tucci, no relation to Stanley, whose passing recently at the way too young age of 38 leaves behind what may very well have been his finest performance to date here. Tucci's always been able to tap into some extraordinary places, but he really stretches himself here as a security guard and ends up turning in one of the film's most compelling performances.
Ten Minutes to Midnight is both exactly what you expect and quite a bit more.
While I've always been a fan of Williams's work, she's pretty extraordinary here in capturing both the madness and the mayhem of a woman in a world that is suddenly, and involuntarily, changing. You get the feeling that being a DJ is who Amy Marlowe is, there is nothing else, and when that starts to slip away we simultaneously watch as Marlowe herself seemingly slips away into a fragmented self that is both distraught and destructive. Bloomquist never chooses to define things easily and that's most certainly one of the strengths of the film. Even the ending, which didn't entirely work for me, still works on the level of having multiple layers at play all at once.
Adam Weppler, a regular Bloomquist collaborator, is strong as usual here while William Youmans shines as much as a sleazeball can shine. While COVID-19 has created havoc on the film fest scene, Ten Minutes to Midnight picked up a handful of awards at Dead Northern (Best International Feature), Halloween International Film Festival (Best Actor, Williams), ReadingFilmFEST (Best Feature, Best Music - Feature), and Vancouver Horror Show (Best Film, Best Lead Performance, Best Director, Best Writing, Best Cinematography, Best Supporting Performance - Kang, Best Costume Design, and Best Make-up).
Indeed, Gyom Amphoux's original music plays around with that 80's vibe while also capturing the film's emotional core. Thomson Nguyen's lensing accomplishes quite a bit for an indie horror and really is marvelous when it comes to capturing the undefinable decay of Amy Marlowe and the fragmented world around her.
Picked up by 1091 Pictures for a digital/VOD release, Ten Minutes to Midnight is a dastardly dark motion picture that will please devotees of 80's horror and especially those who want to see one of Caroline Williams's finest performances and, quite sadly, Nicholas Tucci's final performance.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic