Home Video Hovel: Home Before Midnight, by Aaron Pinkston
When the menu screen for Pete Walker’s Home Before Midnight popped up, my wife (who was half paying attention at the other side of the room) asked if this was a porno. There were some signs: the semi-suggestive title, a soft-focused portrait of an attractive young lady staring wistfully into the distance with an aviator-clad man positioned above her, and the hazy pop-rock soundtrack. I responded “of course not,” but I had to admit I was second-guessing. Then, within minutes, there was a softcore sex scene between a truck driver and a woman hitchhiker semi-hidden in the woods.
While it doesn’t end up being pornographic, Home Before Midnight takes some cues from popular European tales of sexual awakening. Songwriter Mike Beresford begins a romantic relationship with Ginny, whom he picks up walking along the highway. Their love blossoms quickly; she likes his glamorous lifestyle, and they are openly comfortable with each other. Shortly after meeting, their relationship turns sexual. This seems to be the start of an extraordinary love, but there is a problem — turns out, Ginny is only 14.
Once Ginny’s parents find out of their daughter’s sexual relationship, the film becomes a complicated look at statutory rape laws. Mike isn’t a predator and Ginny is convincingly mature (everything is a bit muddy as the actress is certainly much older — according to director Pete Walker in an interview located in the Blu-ray’s special features, the actress was 18 at the time of shooting, but she looks even older). Unfortunately for Mike, there is no leeway in the eyes of the law. In fact, the police refuse to think of Mike as anything but a sexual maniac and their interrogation of Ginny gets her to claim non-consensual sex — perhaps to protect herself with her parents present or because she’s decidedly not mature, confused, pressured, and perhaps a touch manipulative.
Being an exploitation film, the under-age sex premise leads to some icky spots. First is the strange relationship between Ginny and her parents, who give way too much freedom to their daughter. They know of her acquaintance with Mike and allow her to go on trips with him, yet they are totally blind to the possibility of anything untoward happening. There is also the fact that Mike continues his relationship with Ginny after stumbling upon her true age. Sure, he’s upset at first and breaks it off, but that doesn’t last — taking the film’s narrative from an innocent love story to something actually sinister without a shift in tone. Most upsetting, though, is Ginny’s full-frontal nudity, which implicates the viewer, as well.
Home Before Midnight is far from flashy, with little visual style, and the plot is rife with after-school special potential, but the film is a surprising dramatic entertainment. It tries to balance a serious plot and exploitation elements, and it mostly does, though not without a little discomfort. Alison Elliott gives a strangely compelling performance as Ginny, which is actually two different performances given her status during and after the relationship. She is at her best in the first half of the film, when she is playing maturity, but her over-playing as an innocent 14 year old is oddly magnetic.
The new Blu-ray is released by Kino Lorber’s Redemption label and features an interview with Pete Walker talking about the filming experience and reception of Home Before Midnight and a handful of trailers from Walker’s diverse work.