On a dark hurricane-battered night, something strange is afoot at a local Wisconsin radio station. It’s not the usual night-shift oddness and staff hijinks, but something altogether more significant: a new addition has arrived. For long-time host Amy Marlowe, the turn of events is an innocuous start to the most sinister evening of her life. Ten Minutes to Midnight transforms this fateful night into 73 minutes of psychological horror and bloody neon-glow nightmare.

After a sly smile, some snark, and a scream, it’s as if Vanita “Stretch” Brock, last seen in Tobe Hooper’s 1986 sequel The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, had never left the microphone. As Amy, Caroline Williams is in fine form echoing her most famous role. None of the confidence and scream-queen intensity has diminished in the 34 years since she last endured midnight horror at a radio station. Her performance provides Ten Minutes to Midnight with its most compelling aspect, an unbridled boiling of emotion that builds from sarcastic banter with the station crew to indignant fury towards her boss and later paranoid frenzy. Unfortunately, Williams ends up as an oasis amid a sea of otherwise mediocre characters; her dedicated and distraught performance is surrounded by one-note personalities who only sink further into caricature while the film descends further into surreal mayhem.

The catalyst for such mayhem is Sienna (Nicole Kang, Swallow), the young arrival who Amy quickly deduces is not merely a new hire but her impending replacement. That realization marks Ten Minutes to Midnight’s fracture from logic, its darkened station rooms gradually morphing into a fear-hued mental prison. Are the Insistent warning of rabies omens of bloodletting to come, or merely jarring slips of the mind emerging among normal conversations?

Gory splashes of murder and disturbing self-harm may be signs of a vampiric decline into madness, or Amy’s existential unmooring manifested in grisly detail. The radio station corridors gain a purgatorial aura, each increasingly weird and bloody occurrence reflecting Amy’s internal turmoil and frustration. Williams commits completely to that splintering of reality, as director Eric Bloomquist bathes rooms in Argento blues and reds, distorts faces with demonic VFX and shifts characters’ identities and traits to disorienting effect. Those abrupt bursts of ghoulishness waver between legitimately unnerving mood and being bizarrely laughable in the moment (perhaps unintentionally). When Williams is swept up in the escalating delirium, the film often achieves its uneasy goals, but the rest of the cast rarely reaches those same heights, for the most part achieving little more than quirkiness and overacted terror.

By the time Ten Minutes to Midnight devolves fully into a logic jumble of internal fears and waking nightmare, its sense of unease and horror has been supplanted by shallow confusion. Horror and unease melts into a disjointed carnival of weird behaviors and metaphorical visuals that confounds us as much as it reflects Amy’s own stresses. The film’s claustrophobic whirlwind hooks through its striking aesthetic, relentless serves and Caroline Williams’ capable performance, but its concise duration aborts just as exhaustion sets in. The viewer’s frustration with the surreal logic and blunt plotting might linger in memory more than the manic pacing and imagery.

Caroline Williams is swept up in the escalating delirium, but the rest of the cast rarely reaches the same heights.
50 %
Surreal Mayhem
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