"There’s a tense notion of cat and mouse running through the spine of the film"

Alas, there is something undoubtedly nostalgic about Jeff Nichols’ Midnight Special. It’s a warm, comforting, and familiar type of sci-fi indie that feels like it could’ve been made at the height of Spielberg’s career in the ‘80s.

Nicholls once again teams up with Michael Shannon as his lead, but what becomes apparent in this low-key kickback to yesteryear fantasy is that the star is youngster Alton, played by Jaeden Lieberher. The story’s about him and a careful, gradual unfolding of why he’s been abducted by his estranged, short-tempered father Roy (Shannon) and loyal buddy Lucas (an impressive support in the form of Joel Edgerton). This road movie of sorts is at times a crime/thriller-cum-chase escapade, as we follow the three males escaping those who, at all costs, mustn’t be allowed to catch them.

But the true focus here, aside from Alton’s quest to discover his origin and destiny – it’s a quest to seek both a literal and a metaphorical acceptance – is one of friendship and human nurturing, especially when he meets FBI investigator Paul Sevier (Adam Driver). They forge a touching relationship of understanding that’s in huge contrast to the entire band of law enforcement that’s pursuing them through violent means or otherwise.

There’s a tense notion of cat and mouse running through the spine of the film; from the moment it begins, right up until the story’s resolution. What would normally be a particularly mundane story instead becomes a rather intense affair due to the explosive nature of Roy and his unfazed determination to keep his son protected. There's an unquestioned, unconditional idea of love on display from Alton’s parentals, which features Kirsten Dunst as Alton’s mild-mannered mother.

Midnight Special continues Nichols’ body of work in strong style, following on from the excellent drama Mud, as well as the gloriously foreboding Take Shelter, and slow burning debut Shotgun Stories. Indeed, the director uses the best elements from his previous films and creates a progressive, intriguing and mysterious thriller that won’t necessarily please everyone, but it’s got a very real, grounded sense of reality within the realms of its science fiction theme.

Yet when it’s all over, you may be left with a lack of fulfilment. Possibly because most of it is so underplayed and its climax, while standout from the rest of it, is poignant, there’s a spark missing to elevate this from an engaging, well-told indie tale to something, well, truly special.