This sub-okayish horror movie is a ‘80s franchise fiend/urban legend premise redone for the creepypasta generation – the title boogeyman (Kyle Strauts) looks like a Bat-villain (Ragdoll or the Scarecrow), has a Candyman knock-off deep scary voice, wears various toothy-snarly masks, and torments teenagers with their worst fears – like having their throats cut by a giant bunnyheaded goon or getting a clawed fist punched right through their head or coughing up a lake of blood in the bathtub or exploding into a red mist – every time a group of foolish clots play a complicated game.
The oddest thing about the film is that, compared with the simple procedures required to invoke Bloody Mary or just opening the window for a vampire, the Midnight Man can only make a nuisance of himself when kids play a game which involves signatures punctuated with blood-spots, photographs inscribed with those worst fears, knocking twenty-two times on the inside of the front door, not letting a personal candle stay out for longer than ten seconds by a slow count, either keeping on the move or cowering in a protective salt circle (?), and toughing it out from midnight till 3.33 by the many clocks in the old dark house where it all takes place. Not only is all this rigmarole hard to keep straight – as the helpfully overexplanatory doctor (Robert Englund) says, the Midnight Man likes to cheat – so none of it matters anyway.
After a 1953 prologue, we get a few minutes to warm up to dutiful if glum Alex (Gabrielle Haugh), who is looking after her housebound, perhaps dementia-afflicted grandmother Anna (Lin Shaye) in a mansion full of scary objects like creepy mannequins hidden under ghost sheets. Sent up to the attic to find a silver mirror, Alex and would-be boyfriend Miles (Grayson Gabriel) find a box tied up with string and, of course, open it and try to play the game (there’s no TV so they can’t watch a movie, their preferred evening pastime). The jump scares have started before Miles finds the torn-off strip with the really bad news rules. Kelly (Emily Haine), referred to as a goth but fairly bland, shows up and joins in, though guilt over that murdered rabbit marks her for early doom.
As in several recent Ouija and Insidious films, the redeeming factor is Lin Shaye as a mad old bat – alternately sweet, daffy, furious and spiteful, and responsible for throwing successive generations of players to the MM. Englund is a value for money guest star, but just reads the lines before getting battered to death. Shaye really puts her elbow into murdering the ex-Freddy, though I’d guess this is less likely to lead to follow-ups than her other horror hits. Written and directed by Travis Z (aka Zariwny), who’s best known for the pointless remake of Cabin Fever but has done odd genre originals too (Scavengers, Intruder); this is a remake too, of the 2013 Irish film Midnight Man (not of the interesting 1974 Burt Lancaster crime movie). Unexceptional and unmemorable – and liable to not to stand out in the spooky somethingman stakes thanks to Candyman, Slenderman and the Bye Bye Man.