Ten Minutes to Midnight. 2020.
Directed by Erik Bloomquist.
Screenplay by Erik & Carson Bloomquist.
Starring Caroline Williams, Nicole Kang, Nicholas Tucci, William Youmans, Adam Weppler, Alice Kremelberg, Greg Balla, & Martin Sola.
Not Rated / 73 minutes
The following essay contains SPOILERS! Turn back, lest ye be spoiled.
I was lucky enough to see Erik Bloomquist’s feature film debut Long Lost before its release last year. A unique, eerie film I never cease to recommend. I knew I’d be excited to see what Bloomquist did next, and he certainly did not disappoint. Ten Minutes to Midnight is creepy and tons of fun. It also gives Caroline Williams the best role she’s had in years. And does she ever slay.
Erik and Carson Bloomquist’s screenplay follows Amy Marlowe (Williams) on what turns out to be her last night working at the radio station where she’s been a DJ for the past three decades. She only finds that out after getting there, made worse by the fact a bat bit her on the way to work. She tries to talk with her gross boss Bob (William Youmans), except his attention is fixed on a young woman named Sienna (Nicole Kang), who’s replacing Amy. But the jig’s up. Amy’s first got to survive the night after she starts having strange visions and, just maybe, craving blood.
Ten Minutes to Midnight feels like a throwback to the 1970s/80s with its credits and title card. These moments return in a couple flashbacks Amy has throughout, too. The aesthetic nostalgia plays into the film’s major theme with Amy reflecting on a woman’s role in the workplace and how things change yet often stay the same. The film’s plot shows how a vampiric entertainment industry— or any capitalist industry— feeds off the body of women, then sets them out to pasture like cattle once they’re deemed ‘too old.’ Amy’s tale is one of a woman who refuses to accept her position in the hierarchy set out by men. Just so happens she might have the power of a vampire bat flowing in her veins the same night she finally realises the damage the patriarchy’s done to her.
The Bloomquists do an excellent job of complimenting their film’s horror with social issues, and doing it without having to hammer us over the heads with a message. The entertainment industry, even more so than some other capitalist industries, pits women against one another in competition. What emerges as Amy v. Sienna in a late night radio battle is just a symptom of the larger issue. Amy’s made to feel like she’s old, that she’s past her expiration date as a desirable woman. Women still face this type of sexism on the radio where it’s only their voice being heard because those sexist value judgements placed on women are inherent to a capitalist world, no matter where they work. Even Aaron (Adam Weppler), good intentions aside, makes Amy feel she’s aged out of being useful, telling her about when he was a boy and his mother would leave the radio on late so he’d end up hearing the show. Despite his attempts at cheering Amy up he treats her like a piece of “nostalgia” rather than a woman about to be unemployed.
Patriarchy and capitalism are a bad mix— in fact, the latter really needs the former to work. Bob as a character is symbolic of where the two converge. He’s a bourgeois business owner, just as concerned with satisfying himself sexually as he is with running his business well. Amy’s flashback shows us how Bob’s repeated a cycle of workplace sexual harassment that he started with her, now with Sienna. Though this is where we also see how things have slightly changed, if only a little. Sienna tells Amy she only ever led Bob on in order to make him think he could bed her. She outwitted him. Although Amy accuses the younger woman of sleeping her way into the job it was actually Sienna playing a sexist system against her employer. Capitalist patriarchy ingrains internalised misogyny into women of the working class, further enforcing a sense of competition. Amy’s accusation towards Sienna illustrates her internalised misogyny. She assumes another woman couldn’t possibly take her job without using sex. Bob encourages, and reinforces, this woman-on-woman misogyny by telling Amy: “You loved it when it was your turn.” He knows what he’s doing because he goes on to taunt her, tongue firmly planed in cheek, when he says: “You women should be building each other up, not tearing each other down.”
“May it fill your veins with the weight of history”
A scene near the ends depicts a surreal retirement party that ends with a wake for Amy. She’s presented with a coffin like it’s meant as a retirement gift. The obvious symbolism here is retirement equals death. Ageing and subsequent retirement means a type of spiritual death in society, particularly for women. Amy’s facing no job after having been employed steadily at one place for 30 years, whereas Bob will just go on bringing one intern after the next into his office, playing quid-pro-quo with women’s bodies and minds in order to keep the station running. The difference for women ageing is particularly embodied by Sienna— who appears as Nicholas Tucci’s security guard Ernie in Amy’s strange vision— giving Amy a bottle of wine and adding: “May it fill your veins with the weight of history.” This subtle imagery parallels wine with women— one gets better with age, the other’s perceived by patriarchal society to lose value with age.
The film depicts a vampiric entertainment industry taking its figurative toll on Amy. We can view the ending not just as horrific— and awesome!— we can likewise see it as Amy, symbolic of so many women scorned by a patriarchal entertainment industry, taking revenge. One of the key scenes that makes Amy feel representative of those women is the one in which she picks up a call on the red phone. Amy’s hearing one caller’s story, yet it’s the collective voice of women who’ve been used and abused by capitalist industry, entertainment or otherwise. It’s after this phone call that everything’s turned upside down and Amy has a subverted vision of her real life, culminating in a retirement party-wake combo. Once Amy’s heard the call, a sum of women chewed up and spit out, she sees life entirely differently, shown by everyone in her life taking on new identities. She’s fully come to comprehend how deeply broken she’s become due to a system that’s sucked the lifeblood out of her. However, she’s also reached a point of no return, incapable of undoing what’s been done to her by an industry of male vampires, resulting in one hell of a bloody final moment.
If you just take the film at face value it’s a creepy and at times darkly funny vampire story that doesn’t get caught up in vampire lore, instead focusing on telling a strong story augmented by some fangs. Bloomquist gets great performances out of the whole cast, including Nicholas Tucci— rest in peace— in a wonderfully weird role, and Caroline Williams again proving her Scream Queen status. Any horror fan looking to add a new movie to their marathons would do well to consider this one for the rotation.
Ten Minutes to Midnight, like Bloomquist’s debut feature Long Lost, has so much more going on than just being an engaging genre story. Beneath the blood and teeth are timely issues about the difficulties women face in the entertainment industry. In an era where people want to talk about a post-Weinstein world in the entertainment industry, Bloomquist’s film acknowledges that though there have been changes, there haven’t been enough. We’re not post-Weinstein because he was merely a symptom of a rampant disease affecting all capitalist industries, not solely entertainment.
We won’t live in a post-Weinstein world until other film producers like him, men like Trump, and Bob the radio station owner among many others, are no longer in control. Until then, women like Amy will continue to deal with ageism, misogyny, and sexism at once, and whatever they become, vampire or not, it won’t be their fault. The fault will lie with the men who made them this way, and the bloodsucking system they insist on perpetuating.