Rock ‘n’ roll indie horror flick Ten Minutes to Midnight is all about transitions. Directed by Erik Bloomquist, the film and its incredible lead Caroline Williams focus on unpleasant transitions like fickle employers that force out loyal employees, an ageist society that stops valuing women after they hit 30, and the painful process of turning into a really pissed-off vampire.
Williams plays Amy Marlowe, a late-night DJ who hosts the long-running show “Ten Minutes to Midnight.” She arrives to work late after being bitten by some manner of flying animal that leaves hilariously huge bite marks on her neck. When her delightfully smarmy station manager Robert (William Youmans) informs her that she’ll have a young woman “shadowing” her (i.e., taking over her job as soon as Amy signs off for the night), she spirals into a nightmare of lost time, terrifying visions, and bloody attacks.
Ten Minutes to Midnight is a wild, energetic combination of eerie imagery and wicked humor. The late Nicholas Tucci is particularly hilarious as Ernie the security guard, stealing nearly every scene he’s in…and that’s before he starts twerking. His bizarre intensity and impassioned line readings are a real joy to watch. I still haven’t stopped laughing at his description of a troublesome raccoon as “That little dumpster bitch!” The whole cast shines, though, especially Williams. She deftly handles the emotional weight of the film, showing her inner turmoil at every step: her caustic, righteous fury at being replaced after working for the station for 30 years; her terror and frustration over her increasingly alarming physical symptoms; and her grief over losing something that she spent more than half her life building.
The film makes inventive use of its limited location, taking place entirely inside the tiny radio station. It relies a tad too much on flashbacks to scenes that took place just minutes earlier, but the performances are so fantastic that they smooth over any bumps in the narrative. There’s a throwback vibe that spans decades of horror inspiration — Amy’s retirement party plays out like the finale of Carnival of Souls, Gyom Amphoux’s score feels reminiscent of Goblin’s ’70s work, and the ending has a rowdy TerrorVision feel to it. The movie’s no pastiche, though; rather, it’s a celebration of how fun and weird indie horror can be.
Ten Minutes to Midnight fits a lot into its 72-minute runtime. It explores sexual harassment, ageism, corporate heartlessness, the curse of hindsight, and questions of loss and identity. It’s also funny as hell, acknowledging the importance of puns and awkward dance scenes. The performances are all strong, with Caroline Williams and Nicholas Tucci turning in especially brilliant work. Smart, hilarious, and creepy, this zany vampire story is a must-see for fans of quirky indie horror.