Heart of Midnight

The best thing about Heart of Midnight is a fine central performance by an actress named Jennifer Jason Leigh, who plays an emotionally unstable young woman who’s recently inherited a creepy, rundown nightclub. Leigh, a tiny, pale blonde, seems to make curious career choices, ranging from Fast Times at Ridgemont High to Paul Verhoeven’s violent epic Flesh + Blood to the quirky horror film The Hitcher.

In Heart of Midnight, she gives a quietly unnerving performance. The setup is similar to Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, in which Catherine Deneuve underwent some traumatic behavior readjustment (i.e., the audience had to figure out whether she was going crazy or not). Leigh has to suggest the same sort of mental disintegration.

Leigh’s character in Heart of Midnight lives in the deserted club, and becomes aware that she is not alone in the rambling old place. One night she is assaulted by some hoods, but the policeman given the case (Frank Stallone) doesn’t believe her, because of her history of mental illness. Then another policeman (Peter Coyote), much more eccentric, begins to hang around and tell her how attracted he is to her. And things get even stranger.

Writer-director Matthew Chapman examines the process of her crack-up, and in the best film noir fashion, his visual sense is stylish and colorful. It’s easy to go along with the film for a while, because the setup is intriguing, and because there are so few movies that examine psycho-sexual problems from a female character’s point of view (although there has been an interesting subgenre of independent movies with exactly this subject, including Call Me and Lady Beware, a couple of intriguing misfires).

But eventually Heart of Midnight folds in on itself, with a conclusion that introduces a new character at a very late date to explain what’s been going on. Very messy, and very odd; about half of a good movie.

First published in The Herald, March 9, 1989

Director Chapman is the great-great grandson of Charles Darwin. This film also features Steve Buscemi and Brenda Vaccaro, and sounds like it’s worth a re-visit.

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